by Greg Gunderson, race car driver for the American Sprint Car Series
Greetings one and all! My name is Greg Gunderson and my story is of my addiction to speed! Shocked that I would come right out and say it? Let me clarify, that is speed as in fast cars…not speed the drug! My fascination with going fast began as a very young boy. My first fast toy came to me on Christmas when I was 5. Unlike typical children, I jumped on my new snowmobile without any hesitation and went full throttle. I have been playing with fast toys ever since! I currently race a 360 sprint car in the ASCS circuit. This is dirt track racing where the cars go an average of 115 miles per hour. Talk about your adrenaline rushes!
Ok…so now you are really confused right? You are sitting there wondering why fast cars make me so unique. Well, I am Deaf. I have been Deaf since birth which posed a unique set of circumstances for both me and my parents. As they saw it, there were two options: sitting back and letting my deafness become a handicap or forge through life with vim and vigor. Although my parents made the initial decision, it has become a lifestyle for me to live everyday to the fullest. My mother decided from the very beginning that I was just another kid and expected me to do everything that all the other children around were doing. I was never once babied by my friends or family. Obviously, being deaf, communication was a challenge, but it did not stop me for a moment. I recall one day when my family had moved to a new home in the country. My mother was in the house putting things away which was BORING for an 8-year-old boy. I promptly charged into the kitchen and notified my mother that I would be out looking for friends. I jumped on my three-wheeler and spent the rest of the day going door to door looking for new playmates. I came home for supper with a new friend in tow. I was determined even when I was 8!
Communication is a natural process for most people and most children. Not so with a parent who can hear and child who can not. Important decisions must be made in a short time frame to ensure that early learning is taking place. It is believed that the first three years of language development are the most imperative. That being said, when a parent and child are not able to communicate in a way that is natural to both, there is a lot of information missed. My parents made a decision to begin learning sign language and to raise me via visual means. My father’s cousin, who is deaf, starting coming around the house on a regular basis and even stayed with us during the week so that I would be exposed to constant communication. The decisions of my parents have impacted my life in the long term. I was able to learn so much through sign language and other gestural means of communication.
Because of my strong determination to succeed in every aspect of life, I was always asking questions and as we all know, questions pave the road to knowledge. To this day, I used sign language as my main mode of communication. However, because I live in a world where the majority can hear, I need to be flexible in how I communicate with others. I carry paper and pen with me at all times and am not afraid to approach others in this manner. I also have a communication device called the UbiDuo which enables me to use a feature much like instant messaging when talking with others. A combination of communication modes and technology has ensured that I am able to interact with a variety of people on a regular basis.
So now I probably have you believing that sign language is only for those who are unable to hear. Ah, not so! There are so many benefits to using sign language for hearing people as well. Both of my children are hearing, as is my spouse. We all communicate in sign language around our house. My children were able to sign before they were able to speak. This is true of all children. The development and coordination of the speech mechanisms develop later than do the fine motor skills in the hands. Therefore, children are able to communicate in a physical means before they are able to communicate in a vocal means. My youngest child was a screamer as a baby. My wife would try and soothe her vocally at times and she would just scream louder. We finally realized that if we began signing to her during her screaming bouts she would immediately quiet down. We are not exactly sure why this would happen, but we have reason to believe that she was trying to communicate with us in her signing mode as well. Some of the obvious advantages for sign language communication are disciplining your children in church, talking under water and of course talking with others across the track.
Success can be determined in so many different ways. I would say that I am a very successful person and that is not because of or in spite of my disability, rather it is because of who I am and what I have done with my life. I have been married to a wonderful woman for nearly 15 years and we have two beautiful little girls. Hannah is our 11-year-old who is heading into middle school this year. Camille is our 7-year-old firecracker. Both our girls have been taught to value life as a CODA (Child Of Deaf Adult) and appreciate their unique talent of sign language. I am currently employed with the State of South Dakota. I have worked in many different professional positions throughout my lifetime. Each and every position has taught me something valuable in life. I may not be a doctor or a lawyer, but I would have to say that I am a successful person.
Check me out on the web at Gundersonracing.com. You will be able to see some clips of my racing, view photos and even purchase a t-shirt or two. Happy signing to all!