Hearing, vision loss can’t slow Whittier infielder Kamberalis
Saturday, April, 26
By Alan Siegel
Haley Kamberalis is an aspiring electrician. Every week, along with classmates at Whittier Tech, the senior fixes damaged outlets around the building.
The work can be dangerous. "It's challenging," she says. "It's kind of why I like it."
Kamberalis never shies away from a challenge. Despite being partially blind and hard of hearing, she's as gung-ho as an athlete in the region.
"If you really like something," she says, "you should just go for it."
Since birth, Kamberalis hasn't had the use of her left eye. Her right eye, she says, is limited to 20/40 vision. She's also an expert lip reader and recently began using hearing aids, which she says have helped immensely.
She plays soccer, softball, and water skis and wakeboards on Lake Attitash in Merrimac, where she lives.
"She's a perfect role model," Whittier athletic director Kevin Bradley says. "I cannot think of one negative thing to say about her. You'd want your daughter to be like her."
Haley's three brothers, Tyler (her twin), Corey, 22, and Nicholas, 26, were all born with varying degrees of hearing and vision loss. But each adapted, refusing to let the condition hamper daily life.
"They don't think that anything can hold them back," their mother Michelle says.
At one point, Michelle says, the family visited a genetic counselor, who wasn't able to determine a diagnosis.
"They tried to attach it to a syndrome," Michelle says, "But it didn't really fit into any."
In a way, it makes sense. Haley doesn't fit the mold of a conventional teenager.
"She's just one of those kids," Bradley says. "In gym class, she gets picked before the boys. Everybody enjoys having her around."
Her hearing and vision limitations never seem to get in the way.
In the fall, Kamberalis played goalie on the newly formed Whittier girls soccer team (which she says played four games). Admittedly, it took some getting used to.
"The field's so big," she says. "You can't hear the coach who's really far away."
This spring, she made the varsity softball team, but last week came to coach Cheryl Begin with a request. She wasn't seeing the field much, she explained to Begin. Would the coach mind if she dropped down to JV?
"She doesn't feel useful sitting on the sidelines," Begin says.
The admission, Begin says, took guts.
"I was kind of scared to tell coach at first," Kamberalis says. "But I think I just wanted to play."
Bradley often forgets that Kamberalis wears hearing aids. By all accounts, her eyes and ears don't hinder her academic performance.
Still, she relies on lip reading and makes it a priority to sit in the front row of all of her classes. To thrive, she says, "You just kind of make up your own strategies."
She has no problem sharing her condition with other kids.
"It's good to get the word out," she says. "A lot of people don't know I'm hearing impaired. It's probably good for them to know."
And yes, Kamberalis says, she's been teased at times.
"I try not to throw a fit," she says. "I walk away or tell them to knock it off."
For the most part, she says, her classmates at Whittier have been accepting.
Sports, a realm seemingly not tailored for Kamberalis, actually provide her with a rich learning environment. In athletics, it's easier pick up on subtleties, she says, because "there's more action" than in academics. Because of her condition, she's forced to watch and listen to her coaches and teammates as intently as possible.
"I'm more observant of things," she says. "I think I'm more curious (than most)."
The fact she's even able to play softball is impressive.
Ted Williams, arguably the best hitter in baseball history, had impeccable vision. Kamberalis, a righty, is able to hit a softball without the use of her left eye.
Try stepping up to the plate and closing the eye closest to the pitcher. Not easy. Not surprising either, her mother says.
"She's always been very goal-oriented," says Michelle, who works for Adaptive Technology Consulting, an organization that helps blind and visually impaired people use computers. "She has a very clear idea of what she wants to do. Everything is open to her."
At the moment, Kamberalis is considering applying for a job at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where she'd work on repairing and modernizing military submarines. She's also thinking about taking business courses at Northern Essex Community College.
For now, though, she's enjoying her senior year, which got a boost from the new hearing aids she began using last month. The $5,000-a-pop devices are expanding her world.
Before, female voices were only recognizable by their high pitch. Now, they're more textured and easier to distinguish. And for the first time, Kamberalis says, she can hear birds chirping and frogs groaning at the lake by her house.
It's a beautiful development.
"Coming out now, it's so weird," she says, "It's really nice."