Ga. Tech softball star pitches through adversity

Georgia Tech Lady Jackets right-handed pitcher Chandler Dennis has competed while battling hearing loss since her junior year of high school. She now has a cochlear implant to help with her impaired hearing. Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletic Association.

Credit: spe

Credit: spe

Georgia Tech Lady Jackets right-handed pitcher Chandler Dennis has competed while battling hearing loss since her junior year of high school. She now has a cochlear implant to help with her impaired hearing. Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletic Association.

When Georgia Tech softball player Chandler Dennis takes the mound for the Lady Jackets this season, she won’t have to read the catcher’s lips or look her coach in the face for instructions.

Despite having severe hearing loss in both ears, the 22-year-old from Suwanee will be able to hear the crowd cheers, the on-field chatter, and the casual banter of her teammates in the dugout.

For a second season, her cochlear implant will compensate for the hearing loss she’s battled with since her junior year of high school.

Georgia Tech Lady Jackets right-handed pitcher Chandler Dennis has competed while battling hearing loss since her junior year of high school. She now has a cochlear implant to help with her impaired hearing. Courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletic Association.

Credit: spe

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Credit: spe

A fifth-year senior, Dennis received her surgically implanted device in her right ear in December 2022 after she and her parents decided that hearing aids were no longer effective. Dennis’s hearing had further deteriorated, and the loss was affecting her life on and off the field.

Whereas hearing aids can only amplify sound, the cochlear implant helps to clarify what Dennis hears. The device receives the sound, processes it, and then sends tiny electric currents to Dennis’s auditory nerve, which signals her brain.

The implant has made a world of difference to this student-athlete who has competed in her sport at a high level most of her life.

“I can definitely tell you my grades are better, and I’m more confident in social situations, more confident on the softball field, feel more involved with my teammates, more involved in everything,” said Dennis, who was named to the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference Coastal Division) All-Academic Team in 2022 and 2023, and the ACC Academic Honor Roll.

“It’s just really changed my life for the better – so, so, so much. I can’t imagine where I’d be if I didn’t get my implant.”

Georgia Tech Lady Jackets right-handed pitcher Chandler Dennis has competed while battling hearing loss since her junior year of high school. She now has a cochlear implant to help with her impaired hearing. Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletic Association.

Credit: spe

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Credit: spe

What impresses her head coach is how well the starting right-handed pitcher has performed on and off the field while compensating for her hearing loss in both ears. Dennis has pitched 159.1 innings for Tech over the last two seasons, starting 42 games and owning a 29-15 record.

“It’s been an amazing journey to watch,” said Lady Jackets Head Softball Coach Aileen Morales. “Chandler has never used her hearing as an excuse or any type of crutch, but I know there were times when it was hard.

“She’s always been able to handle it with such grace and confidence. She’s just one of the most inspiring people I know.”

Dennis suddenly lost hearing in the summer before her junior year at North Gwinnett High School.

“I woke up one morning, and it sounded like I had noise-canceling headphones on or had a really bad head cold. My ears felt really stuffy,” Dennis remembers.

Thinking the issue would disappear, she didn’t seek medical attention immediately. When Dennis did get her hearing tested, it was tough to wrap her head around the prognosis. She had severe hearing loss in both ears, and it wasn’t going to return.

“We don’t know why I lost my hearing initially,” she said. “It was very sudden, very unexpected, and we still don’t know why it happened. It’s kind of a big mystery.”

Dennis was already an accomplished softball player with Division I offers. Hearing aids allowed her to continue to compete in high school and then for two years at the University of Michigan before transferring to Georgia Tech.

She battled through COVID-19 restrictions where face masks muffled voices and took away her ability to read lips. And her hearing got worse, again, randomly and without explanation.

It became hard for her to understand her professors in the classroom, and she had to work longer on her assignments. Though her teammates eagerly included her in their conversations, Dennis says she often felt like a burden to them.

“I just felt out of the loop,” she said. “It’s no fault to them. They’re all so wonderful and supportive.”

Hearing loss brings a “very isolating feeling,” Dennis explained. “Socially, I really struggled a lot because it was hard to keep up with the conversations with my friends when out to dinner. Eventually, I just stopped going because it was too hard for me, and it was stressful. It would bring anxiety, thinking what if I can’t keep up with the conversation.”

Dennis will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. She is passionate about mental health and hopes to pursue a career in sports psychology. Having gone through this adversity, Dennis said she would tell other struggling athletes to give themselves grace and find a supportive group of friends.

“The right people will be patient with you, and you won’t have to feel like you’re a burden. They will always be there for you,” she said.

“And, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.”

Morales said Dennis is an inspiration to the team and other kids facing similar challenges.

“I hope hearing (Chandler’s journey) helps younger kids down the road, and encourages them to pursue something they love doing. Because Chandler loves playing softball. She loves competing.”


MORE ABOUT CHANDLER DENNIS

Dennis is going to be playing her third season with Georgia Tech this spring as a right-handed pitcher.

She is a two-time member of the ACC All-Academic Team (2022 and 2023).

Dennis has pitched 159.1 innings for Tech over the last two seasons, starting 42 games and owning a 29-15 record.

Dennis and the rest of the Georgia Tech softball team will begin their season with six games at Mewborn Field on the campus of Georgia Tech the weekend of Feb. 8-11.

Tickets are available at ramblinwreck.com

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