March 2019 FIFA.com
A league champion, a Spain international and an example of how to overcome adversity, Athletic Club’s Eunate Arraiza is one of the best left-backs in Spain's Primera Division and the only professional player in it to have a hearing disability.
“When I was two my parents realised that I never responded when they called me, and so they took me to the doctor’s,” said Arraiza, who has been with her club for seven years. “They diagnosed me with sensorineural hearing loss. We don’t know if I had it at birth or not.”
Her hearing impairment did not prevent her from taking up futsal as an eight-year-old in Baranain, Navarra and playing football all day long with her friends in her home town of Biurrun. Sharing her father’s passion for the game, Arraiza possessed a talent that brought her to the attention of Athletic Club, who signed her up in 2012.
“The hardest thing for me, both in training and in matches, is when my team-mates talk behind me,” she explained. “I can hear them talking to me, but it’s really hard for me to pick up exactly what they’re saying.”
As she herself admits, Arraiza has had to work three times as hard as others. As well as devoting her energies to football and her studies, she has also had to find time to have her hearing impairment treated. Following various operations, a cochlear implant, the fitting of a small hearing aid and hours and hours of work with speech therapists, she has fought back against her disability and now has 30 per cent hearing ability. “Before every game, the team representative tells the match officials about my problem and explains that I have a little device in my ear,” said Arraiza. “I can hear the referee’s whistle perfectly well and if my team-mates speak straight to me then I can hear them too”.
An admirer of Lionel Messi and Irene Paredes, with whom she shared a dressing room for four years, Arraiza is dreaming of winning another title with her club, having enjoyed what she describes as the “highlight” of her career when Athletic won the league in 2016, an achievement they celebrated with the fans. Another career pinnacle was her first international call-up. The 27-year-old made her Roja debut in the 6-0 defeat of Israel in the qualifiers for the FIFA Women's World Cup France 2019™, back in October 2017.
“The experience of training and playing with the women’s national team was amazing,” she explained. “It was a reward for me and it was so exciting. My dream now, aside from winning more titles with my team, is to play at the World Cup. To do that I need to keep working and fighting.”
Arraiza is living proof that hard work can make dreams come true. Getting her message across, she added: “There’s nothing that’s impossible. If you work hard, make a sacrifice and put the effort in, then sooner or later the success and the results will come your way, both in football and in life.
“My advice for any girl with a dream is for them to enjoy what they like doing most and to keep on fighting. You don’t get anything for free in this life; you have to battle for it. You shouldn’t forget about your studies either. It’s important to have qualifications for the future.”