Thomas living proof of obstacles can be overcome

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 8, 2004

GREEN TOWNSHIP - She was a freestyle roller skating champion at the age of 7. She's

a classical pianist and a former FBI surveillance expert.

She's also an author, a motivational speaker and the inspiration behind a cable network's hit show.

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Green High School students were entranced by Friday afternoon's guest speaker, Sue Thomas, who has been deaf since she was 2 years old. Thomas, 52,

has taken what some people may consider a weakness and built it into a herculean strength.

The entire student body covered their ears to experience moments in a deaf world.

"I want people to know what it would be like to understand deafness - it should not separate a person from people," Thomas said.

Seventh-grader Kaitlin Hammond said Thomas' visit changed her perceptions.

"I never thought that someone who couldn't hear could have such a life as her. I've always thought that a deaf person had to live as they were disabled," she said.

Before her Deaf Awareness Day presentation, Thomas attended a luncheon with hearing-impaired students and students who take a sign language class. "She's finally here! She's here," was excitedly repeated throughout the room.

"I'm really happy to be here, and I plan on talking with as many of you as possible," said Thomas.

Teresa Schweinsberg, the teacher for hearing-impaired students, said her students worked throughout the year to raise funds for Thomas' visit. Scioto and Lawrence County organizations and businesses, including Ohio University Southern, provided donations.

"My students see this as a way to bridge the gap between the hearing and the hearing-impaired," she said.

Former student Seth Terkhorn has two more weeks of computer-aided drafting classes left at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. The part-time ambulance crew technician and soon-to-be fireman came back to Ohio especially to see Thomas.

He is a big fan of the show, "Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye," in which 80 percent of the series was based upon Thomas' lip-reading talents provided during her three-and-a-half-year stint with the FBI.

Subsequent shows always try to have at least one aspect, "no matter how small - that was true," said Thomas.

A deaf woman, Deanne Bray, plays the role of Thomas and the golden retriever hearing-ear dog is named Levi. Sue's hearing-ear companion at her Columbiana home is Amazing Grace.

Leslie Graff, a student of sign language, said she thought she would be learning signs, but she came to realize hearing-impaired students are not different - they just communicate in different ways.

"We're all alike, whether we can hear or we are deaf," she said.

Thomas wrote her first book, an autobiography entitled "Silent Night," in 1990 and she's currently working on a sequel, even though she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis three years ago.

Her favorite pastime is singing. At the assembly's end, she sang Silent Night.

"We have the same hopes and aspirations as everyone else on planet Earth," she said.

"Sue Thomas F.B.Eye" airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. on PAX cable network.