The next level is a level playing field: Katie Norton wants fitness to be accessible for all.
At Ryderwear, we’re big believers in the idea that lifting is for everyone. Whatever your size, your body shape, physical ability or identity, the gym is a space where everyone belongs.
To help everyone feel at home in the squat rack, our ‘Lifting is for Everyone’ series aims to amplify the voices of people in our community who don’t always fit the stereotypical ideal of what a lifter looks like (but absolutely should) - who work just as hard, lift just as heavy and are just as committed as anyone you’ll find.
From life in an orphanage in Russia to being diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of one, Katie Norton has encountered more adversity than the average lifter. But instead of letting it break her, she’s found purpose and community in the gym and has become an advocate for accessibility in fitness and beyond - empowering the world to see deafness as an inspiration, not an impairment.
RW: What challenges does being a person with hearing loss pose when it comes to your health & fitness?
KN: In the gym I sometimes feel as if I seem unfriendly to others because I miss what they’re saying in passing, and don’t jump into conversations right away. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to people (I love talking to people!) but I don’t always hear or know what they’re saying to me. The gym environment is a special place where amazing connections can be formed, and sometimes my hearing loss is the reason I miss out on them.
RW: What about in powerlifting?
KN: In powerlifting the meets are focused heavily on being able to follow a set of auditory commands when lifting the weight. During the squat and deadlift it’s not as challenging, however with the bench press I’m laying flat on a bench looking up at the ceiling, and the judge is sitting behind me, which means I can’t see the visual commands and have to rely on the auditory commands. This is very nerve wracking for me as a person with hearing loss. My eyes are my ears, and I need to see to hear because I hear through lipreading! However, self-advocacy is an amazing thing. After my first attempt on the bench I asked the judge to move much closer to me so that I could see him out of the corner of my eye during the commands. This worked perfectly and goes to show that advocating for yourself is so important! Always make sure you get an equal experience, regardless of your disability.
RW: Can you tell us about your journey to where you are now? How would you tell the story of Katie Norton?
KN: My story started in an orphanage in Kaliningrad, Russia. I was born into a family that was poor and already had children, my parents didn’t have the means to provide me with a good life and decided to give me up for adoption. In 2000, my new family adopted me and brought me to the United States, where I’ve lived ever since. No one had any idea I had hearing loss before I was adopted and they only found out when I came to the US and was brought in for the routine screening that all internationally adopted children go through. They shook a little toy monkey behind my head, I didn’t respond and more tests were done, then my diagnosis was made - Bilateral Severe-to-Profound Sensorineural Hearing Loss. I got my first hearing aids at nine months old and my Mom decided to pursue the listening and spoken language route instead of sign language. While I don’t mind that I communicate orally, I do wish sign language was implemented in addition to listening and spoken language, because so many members of the Deaf / Hard of Hearing (d/hoh) community only sign and I want to be able to communicate with them too.
RW: How was it growing up?
KN: There were always challenges growing up around people who did not have hearing loss, but it taught me the importance of self advocacy and never giving up when it came to making sure I got an equal experience in every single setting. I went through years of speech therapy as a kid, as well as some programs for children with hearing loss in school. In Kindergarten I was placed in the general education classroom and spent the rest of my school years learning with the rest of my peers. I’m currently in my last year of college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst studying business. In May 2022 I’ll graduate with a Bachelors of Business Administration. After graduation? Who knows.
Having a disability shouldn’t mean that you get to experience less, it just means that these things might be a little harder to access. Accessibility is not optional and everyone deserves an equal experience regardless of their circumstances.
RW: Our community has been inspired & motivated by the fitness content you’ve shared. What role has fitness and the gym played throughout your life? Do you have a specific outlook or approach to fitness?
KN: I grew up playing Soccer as a goalkeeper, and I loved it for a really long time. But I always felt like I didn’t have enough control of the outcome of the game because I could only stop goals, not score them. I wanted to find a sport where I felt like I could make an impact on the game and also do it in my own time. During my senior year I picked up weights for the first time, intending on shrinking myself to be the smallest I could be - I didn’t want to gain any muscle, only lose fat!
As the months went on, I fell in love with the gym more & more and it became my therapy, and my way to take a break from the world. I started to love the muscle I was putting on, and for the first time in my life I wanted to be bigger instead of smaller. In 2019 in my sophomore year of college, I was finally happy with the amount of muscle I put on from bodybuilding and wanted to shift my focus to strength training. I joined the powerlifting team at my college and from there I never looked back. Joining the team gave me an amazing community of people in the gym who are
As the months went on, I fell in love with the gym more and more and it became my therapy and way to In 2019 in my sophomore year of college, I was finally happy with the amount of muscle I put on from a bodybuilding style of lifting and wanted to shift my focus to strength training. I joined the powerlifting team at my college and from there I never looked back. Joining the team gave me an amazing community of people in the gym wear who are as passionate about lifting heavy as I am, and it gave me a goal to work towards. I lift because it keeps me fit and physically healthy, but also mentally healthy as well. There’s nothing more stress relieving than slamming a heavy barbell on the floor after a set of deadlifts.
RW: What’s the one thing you wish more people knew about being hard of hearing?
KN: One thing I wish more people knew is that deaf and hard of hearing people aren’t faking their hearing loss. It’s exhausting to constantly ask for accommodations and modifications, and it’s really frustrating when we’re not taken seriously. All degrees and types of hearing loss and the struggles associated with them are real and valid. Giving us accommodations isn’t giving us ‘extra’ over others, it’s getting us on a level playing field with everyone else.
RW: What can the health & fitness industry do to be more inclusive and support people who are deaf or hard of hearing?
1. Closed caption all content! Promotional videos, Instagram stories, TikToks (including the music tracks), Facebook Ads - any media that has sound needs to have visual equivalence. If it’s important enough to be said, it’s important enough to caption.
2. Employ more people with hearing loss / other disabilities on your internal and external teams. Warehouse workers, customer support, marketing, and all other departments. People with disabilities are everywhere and diversifying your team is important.
3. Bring on more athletes / brand ambassadors with hearing loss / other disabilities. There are so many people who have disabilities and love fitness, and should be given the opportunity to represent their communities in the media. Disabled representation is important and there are so many potential customers out there waiting for brands to represent people like them in their marketing.
RW: How has lifting helped you overcome the challenges in life that you’ve faced?
KN: Lifting has helped me overcome challenges in life by teaching me the importance of patience. When training for strength, it’s important not to max out every session and to ‘stay in the pocket’ so you can manage your fatigue and central nervous system. However it’s incredibly hard to resist, knowing that you’re stronger than before and the numbers are there! This patience has translated into my real life advocacy - people are resistant to change, and sometimes I need to practice patience when the first seven posts might not work, but the eighth post can completely change someone’s perspective.
RW: What’s a goal you’re working on right now?
KN: Trying to be the best advocate I can be - for people with hearing loss and people with other disabilities as well. People with disabilities live in a world that is built for non-disabled people and it’s important that we can access anything just like everyone else. A couple of years ago I was afraid to even say the word disability. I thought it was a bad word and something to be ashamed of. When I finally came to terms with the fact that it’s not the disability that’s the bad thing, it’s society’s perception, everything changed. I started talking about my experiences as a person with hearing loss and sharing my story on social media. I get so many messages from people with hearing loss thanking me for sharing my struggles because it made them feel less alone knowing someone else also went through that. I want to reach as many people as I can to let them know that they’re not alone in feeling alone.
RW: What do you do when you’re not lifting?
KN: I really enjoy spending time with my mom. The silver lining of being sent home from school during the pandemic was that I got a bonus year and a half at home with my mom. She adopted me as a single mother and it’s only ever been her and I. Getting that extra time was incredibly special and both of us loved it!
RW: Do you have any words of motivation or encouragement for anyone reading this who might be experiencing adversity?
KN: Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel the way you do. We all go through struggles and it’s your struggles that make you stronger in the end. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. We can’t do everything alone and that’s where a strong support system comes in. Everything is going to work out exactly the way it’s supposed to!
RW: Are there any other causes you’d like to talk about or messages you’d like to share with the Ryderwear community?
KN: Anyone can be an advocate. Even if you don’t have a disability yourself, you can still be an ally and work to make the world a more inclusive place. Caption your videos, encourage others to caption their videos, follow disabled creators, buy from disabled-owned businesses, support legislation in favor of disability rights. The world is your oyster. Nothing is too small or too little, any work you do makes an impact. You might be just one person, but you have the power to reach so many and make the world a better place. Remember that the work is never done, but we are farther along today than we were a year ago.
RW: Do you have any favourite Ryderwear pieces or collections?
KN: My favorite collection of all time from Ryderwear is the NKD collection. The leggings are the perfect material with just the right amount of softness and compression and the bras are longer lined and very supportive which I need as a powerlifter. I also love the new Sculpt Seamless line and the oversized T-Shirts.
SHOP SCULPT SEAMLESS
Things to remember when interacting with someone with hearing loss
1. Speak clearly and at a normal volume. Don’t scream or shout, but don’t whisper or mumble either.
2. Make sure you’re facing the person when speaking to them so they can lipread
3. Be mindful of the location. Is it dark or noisy? Move to a better location that is well lit and quiet to allow for easier communication.
4. Remind yourself that we want to be able to understand you as much as you want to be able to be understood.
5. Try not to use the language ‘hearing impaired’. Instead, ‘deaf’, ‘hard of hearing’ or ‘hearing loss’ are all better terms to use. This is because many d/hoh people do not find hearing loss to be an impairment (myself included) and instead see it as a positive identity. Impairment suggests something that is ‘less than’ or ‘wrong with someone’, so there’s always better terms to use.
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