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'No distractions': Hearing-impaired Billings swimmer blocks out noise on way to Team USA berth

Syler Pizzolato
Posted at 4:34 PM, Apr 27, 2023

BILLINGS — It’s always loud inside the Rocky Mountain College pool during Billings Aquatic Club practice - hard for anybody to hear and almost impossible for Syler Pizzolato. But that might be his superpower.

"My hearing impairment actually helps me stay focused because I don’t have any distractions," Pizzolato said.

Pizzolato's hearing impairment is classified as Severe: he has an 82-decibel loss in his best ear. That's the amount of sound a vacuum cleaner makes. But none of that matters in the water.

"It’s just you and that black line at the bottom of the pool," said BAC head coach Sean Marshall.

Syler Pizzolato
Hearing-impaired swimmer Syler Pizzolato wears protective ear plugs when in the pool.

Pizzolato has excelled in the water. He recently made the USA Swimming Futures Cut, meaning he’s in the top 1 percent in his age group in the country, and that’s even after overcoming a unique starting block process.

"At the start of every race, he has to have hand signals so that he knows when to go down at the start of every race and take your mark," Marshall said. "Then he’ll have a strobe light on the block or on the side that he'll watch to go."

You'll often see Pizzolato looking over at the official long after everyone else is in starting position. But once he tucks and looks for that light, he’s dangerous.

"I mean, light travels faster than sound, so maybe I have a little advantage?” the 16-year-old said with a smile.

Syler Pizzolato
Hearing-impaired Billings swimmer Syler Pizzolato gets ready to jump into the pool at Billings Aquatic Club practice on the campus of Rocky Mountain College.

Pizzolato’s most recent achievement is even more impressive. The Billings Senior sophomore has been selected to represent Team USA at the World Deaf Swimming Championships in Argentina from August 13-19.

"I’ve never been out of the country," he said. "A very small percentage of people can go out there and swim for your country. Not just your state or your club, but to be able to swim for your whole nation. It’s really awesome."

He says he’ll have to learn a little more sign language for the trip: he relies more on reading lips, which is not always easy with his head coach.

"He wants to deny it, but I keep telling him that his beard gets in the way," Pizzolato said of Marshall.

"I usually use a lot of hand signals, but he really picks up on lips, so I try to brush the beard back a little bit," Marshall said with a laugh.

Syler Pizzolato and Sean Marshall
Billings Aquatic Club head coach Sean Marshall (right) gives hand-signal directions to hearing-impaired swimmer Syler Pizzolato during BAC practice.

Just another obstacle for Pizzolato to overcome, something he’s plenty used to.

"He understands that he needs a little more time to get what everyone else picks up quickly," Marshall said. "Once he gets it though, he’s going to work 10 times harder than anyone else in the water, and that's what he does."

A GoFundMe has been set-up to help Syler get to Argentina. Click here to donate.