It’s no coincidence Annika Goodbrandson is known for her court vision.
It’s a skill the Selkirk native has had to rely on heavily not just in basketball, but in life as well.
"My dad always says that I’m a very visual person on the court," Goodbrandson said. "I can always make some passes that are like ‘Oh wow, that was a really good pass.’ I think I see the court (really well)."
Goodbrandson — who will be suiting up for the women’s basketball team at Canadian Mennonite University this fall — is deaf. Her family found out when she was two years old. Shortly after getting the test results, Goodbrandson’s parents made the decision to take her to Ottawa for cochlear implant surgery. It’s an electronic device that partially restores hearing for those with severe hearing loss. But the device doesn’t last forever, therefore, 12 years later when Goodbrandson was in Grade 9, she had to have the surgery again. Goodbrandson was on bed rest for nearly two months, unable to hear anything as audiologists won’t activate the implants until the surgery site has healed. In addition to that, Goodbrandson also had appendicitis surgery around that time. The multi-sport athlete, who also participated in soccer, water polo and track, was forced to miss the end of her volleyball season and watch her team play in the KPAC championship game.
"Sports are a big part of my identity. They’re a big part of who I am. Just having that absence in my life made me learn how to value my hearing because I think I take it for granted," said Goodbrandson, who turned 18 last month.
"Ultimately, I am a deaf individual. If it weren’t for my hearing aids, I wouldn’t be able to hear, communicate, and play the sports that made me who I am today."
It took some time for her to get used to her new hearing device, but eventually, she was able to adjust and it hasn’t slowed her down since. It’s why Basketball Manitoba announced Saturday Goodbrandson had won Lena Wenke Courage Award. The Grade 12 Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive Secondary School student gets $500 to donate to a charity of her choice. It was an easy decision for Goodbrandson — she’ll be handing the cheque off to the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic.
The award recognizes an individual who has overcome a number of obstacles and challenges in their life while staying involved in the sport of basketball. In May of 2017, Wenke, a guard from Germany who starred for the University of Winnipeg Wesmen from 2015-2019, was stabbed more than 40 times and left for dead. Wenke spent 10 hours on life support but managed to recover and was back on the court playing with the Wesmen less than 200 days later. The award was created in 2018.
"I look at Lena and I see she has overcome a lot of challenges. I think every challenge has an opportunity on the other side of it so I felt really honoured and grateful to win an award in her name because now I’m able to give back to a community that has helped me become the person I am today," said Goodbrandson.
"If it wasn’t for the Central Speech and Hearing Clinic’s recommendation for me to get a cochlear implant, I don’t think I’d be where I am today."
The cochlear implant is in Goodbrandson’s left ear which allows her to hear around 60-70 per cent, but that number drops to 30 per cent in a noisy environment such as a gym. She can’t hear anything out of her right ear. The hearing device makes a huge difference, but it’s not perfect. Sometimes late in games, the moisture from Goodbrandson’s sweat will cause it to shut off. Whether it works or not, Goodbrandson stays in the game until the final whistle.
"It’s really weird because essentially you’re taking one of your senses away. Even just hearing a teammate call for a pass or hearing someone yell ‘Screen!’ and then you can slide or hedge around a screen because you see it coming. I’ve been banged a couple of times pretty hard on a screen without knowing it’s coming, but that’s OK," she said.
"I can literally only rely on my eyes and my vision, which I think has helped me in the long run as a basketball player. I think I use my vision more than my hearing anyway. But when I have no hearing, it’s definitely more challenging, just through communications, and even just hearing the crowd clap for you."
The COVID-19 pandemic ripped Goodbrandson’s senior season at Selkirk away from her, but she recently started training with her new teammates at CMU. Even though she was sidelined this past year, Goodbrandson makes the jump to the Manitoba Colleges Athletic Conference with quite the résumé. She was a starter in high school since Grade 10, helped her club team, the Winnipeg Wolves, to a provincial championship as well as a berth to nationals, and won a bronze medal with Team Manitoba at the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games. The pandemic has kept her off the court for the majority of the past year, but that hasn’t been the biggest adjustment she’s had to make, as masks being the norm has made living with a hearing impairment extra difficult.
"At work (Shoppers Drug Mart), if I don’t tell (a customer about my hearing impairment), they can often be rude if I mishear them and they have to repeat themselves. I’ll say ‘I’m so sorry, I misheard you, do you mind saying that again please?’ And they get fed up. One time a lady said ‘You need to get your manager because you’re not hearing me.’ So then I said ‘I’m sorry, I can’t hear you, I wear hearing aids.’ And she’s like ‘No you don’t,’ and I’m like ‘Yes I do!’ The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a lot of attention to my hearing impairment because I often fill in the gaps by reading lips."
Regardless of how many points Goodbrandson goes on to score at CMU, she hopes her story not only raises awareness for the hearing impaired community but also reminds people to not make assumptions about others. That, and encourage people to not let any type of obstacle stop them from doing what they love.
"I want to inspire not only young hearing impaired students or children, but everyone because everyone has their own story and you may not know what their story is," she said.
"It’s always good to be humble and kind to people."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.