A first-grade hockey player in the Sydney Women’s Hockey League and a professional umpire, Emma has lived and breathed hockey.
Emma Cairnduff’s eyes never leave the ball as 22 players expertly navigate the field to dribble, flick and drive the ball into the goal. But while her teammates heavily rely on calls, whistles and sounds to play hockey, Emma has taught herself to play the game differently. She keeps one step ahead of every play by closely observing and anticipating the moves of her team mates and opponents.
For Emma, there is no other way to play hockey as she was born with a severe hearing loss in both ears.
“My mum was completely devastated when she was given the news of my hearing impairment. But after the initial shock, she did a lot of research and realised there is a lot of support for kids like me,” recalls Emma.
Working with Hearing Australia
At 17 months, Emma was taken to Hearing Australia to be fitted for hearing aids and enrolled into an early intervention program to develop her speech and listening skills. In her primary school years, Emma attended a mainstream school where she was the only student with a hearing loss.
Teachers didn’t initially understand how much I struggled with school work. Classrooms are naturally noisy environments and even with my hearing aids, it was difficult to understand every single word the teacher and all my classmates were saying. But my itinerant teacher helped a great deal and was very supportive, she says.
Luckily, Emma's social game was strong. Making friends on the other hand was no problem. In fact, I always used to get kicked out of the quiet areas for being too loud, says Emma.
Growing up, Emma always had a real interest in sports. She first tried playing netball before being drawn to the excitement, action and camaraderie found in hockey. After high school, she received a 12 month scholarship to play hockey for the University of Louisville in Kentucky, US.
“Playing hockey for NSW and umpiring for the under 21 women’s Australian Championships are two of my biggest achievements. Many people assume I won’t be able to play or umpire properly because of my disability. But if a hearing person can do it, why can’t I?” says Emma.
Emma’s Hearing Australia audiologist, Suzie Guerreiro, adds, “As sport is such a vital part of Emma’s life, it’s important that her hearing aids fit her active lifestyle.”
Waterproof hearing aids
“In the past, if sweat got into her hearing aids while playing hockey, the device would stop working and she would have to stop the game to fix them. Now, we’ve fitted her with a new pair of hearing aids which allow her to play and umpire hockey without a second thought,” Suzie says.
With a real passion to assist people with a disability, Emma also works for Nova Employment where she helps young teens and adults prepare for the workforce.
Many people I work with enter our doors not knowing what they want to do and are often labelled by their disability. But I tell them that that there are no limits to what you can achieve, if you put your mind to it, says Emma.