ARLINGTON, Texas — It's no easy feat to join a Division 1 sports team as a walk-on your freshman year of college.
But Gareth Ashton doesn't take the easy path.
"He really had to show us that he had what it took – and he has," coach Jordan Dunham said of the sprinter Ashton at a cold afternoon practice on UT Arlington's outdoor track.
It takes discipline, dedication and the willingness to take criticism in stride.
"It's been a challenge," Justin Franklin said, "learning where to position myself so I'm out of the way, but at the same time where he can see me."
Franklin stays in Ashton's line of sight, but he's not a coach. He's an interpreter, seamlessly communicating what coaches need to relay, because Ashton is deaf.
Born to two deaf parents, Ashton, 19, is third-generation deaf.
"I have aunts and cousins, grandparents – all deaf," Ashton said through his interpreter.
Making his mark on the hearing world starts at UT-Arlington.
"Being able to get outside of my bubble and not just staying in that safe, deaf environment," Ashton signed passionately and expressively, when detailing his objective. "I want to get out and show the world what I can do."
He's not only getting outside the bubble – he's bursting it.
On a freezing morning in Oklahoma, a courageous Ashton again was stepping into new territory. It was his first time traveling with the team, his first track meet using an interpreter. And for Ashton, it was largely quiet.
The conversations with his coaches take a great deal of patience. But they are highly critical, because even a tenth of a second is a really big deal.
"If I can't communicate well with him and he doesn't understand [what I'm conveying] then he's going to struggle to improve," Franklin said.
"Really, the focus is just on getting that feedback from the coach and how I can apply it into my art, my skill," Ashton said, adding that he doesn't at all feel disadvantaged when it comes to competing.
"The results are based on me and how I compete," Ashton said.
Grounded and focused, Ashton set up to take on the 200-meter dash, feeling the same internal jitters as the other runners – but only picking up a fraction of the sound around them.
And as soon as the gun went off, Ashton's feet flew. The sprint lasted just seconds.
Ashton may not have won the race, but he definitely won over a crowd.
"There's over 80 people on this team, and I have been able to successfully change their perspective of deaf individuals," Ashton said proudly.
Bold steps to bridge two worlds that don't often meet.