June 2018 Riverhead News Review
As he begins to sprint, the world falls silent. The crowd noise shuts off as if hitting a mute button. He hears no footsteps of the sprinters next to him, no instructions shouted by coaches. Just silence. “It’s like being in a dark room,” Nick Mammina said. For Nick, a senior on the Riverhead track and field team, the silence can be comforting. “I’m focusing on me, not the sound,” he said as he prepared to race in a relay event at the Section XI State Qualifier Championships at Comsewogue High School. As the race began a short time later, Nick crouched on the track at the 100-meter mark where he waited for teammate Chris Debose, the lead-off runner, to transfer the baton in the 4 x 100-meter relay. As Nick began to sprint, he grasped the baton in his left hand and raised his opposite hand toward his left ear to disconnect the cochlear implant that allows him to hear.
As far back as he can remember, Nick’s hearing ability has been made possible through the surgically implanted electronic device. Nick has complete hearing loss and the cochlear implant brings audio to life in his left ear. He remains deaf in the right ear. It’s the only life he’s ever known.
To this day, Nick still fields questions on a nearly daily basis about the device attached to his ear, which resembles a hands-free cellphone accessory at a quick glance. He’s grown accustomed to it over the years and doesn’t mind explaining it. After all, he’s never let the disability define him. His coaches train him like any other athlete on the team. And he’s blossomed into one of the team’s top sprinters, competing in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes as well as the 4 x 100. He’s excelled academically and even became an Eagle Scout.
At 22 months old, Nick become one of the youngest toddlers at the time to be eligible for a cochlear implant; typically, doctors waited until a child was 2 years old before doing the procedure, Ms. Mammina said. But she got a phone call from the doctor’s office on an October day telling her the insurance company had approved the device and Nick could undergo the procedure the next day. “It was the best thing we could have ever done,” she said. “He’s done beautifully. He has great speech. He’s an impressive kid.” Nick’s parents were naturally concerned when he began school as a little kid as to how fellow students would treat him. They feared he might be bullied. Those fears never manifested. His classmates were mostly fascinated by his device. Some would ask how him how could have a cell phone attached to his ear. Over the years, advances in technology have made life easier, specifically with books on tape so he can hear the words as he reads them. Nick’s mom noted Apple products are specifically helpful for someone who’s hearing impaired.
Following graduation later this month, Nick will prepare to attend Rochester Institute of Technology to pursue a degree in engineering while also running on the school’s Division III track and field team. “He’s been wanting to be an engineer forever,” said his mother, Jen Mammina. While many of his friends were scrambling to decide on colleges, Nick relaxed knowing he had his sights set on RIT, which offers a specific college geared toward deaf students: the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. He’ll face additional challenges at RIT as he learns how to interact with fellow deaf students who may not have the benefit of a cochlear implant. To prepare, he’s learning sign language. His mom has already cried at the thought of her son going away to college and leaving home. His parents typically wake him up in the morning, so his mom asked him what he planned to do in college since he can’t hear an alarm clock with the device off his head at night. Like with any challenge, Nick found a solution: a vibrating alarm that’s strong enough to wake him.