Deaf swimmer 'trying to make a change'
Born almost completely deaf, Marcus Titus has grown used to overcoming obstacles. He has never let his impairment slow him down or stifle his aspirations in or out of the swimming pool.
In his latest victory, Titus successfully led a social-media campaign that persuaded USA Swimming to allow the use of hand signals in his events at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Omaha, Neb.
That battle was relatively easy, especially compared with everything he's overcome since taking up competitive swimming as a high-school freshman in Tucson. The next battle will prove tougher, as Titus attempts to qualify in the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke events for the 2012 Olympics in London.
Titus owns the third-fastest American time in the 100m during this competition period. It's his strongest event and the one in which he has the best shot to qualify, but the competition in the event is extremely deep.
That's readily apparent at Tucson Ford Aquatics on the University of Arizona campus, where Titus trains on a daily basis with some of those he'll be competing against for a U.S. Olympic berth — including the University of Arizona's Kevin Cordes, who as a freshman broke the American short-course record for the 100 breaststroke, and Ed Moses, a former world-record holder and 2000 Olympic silver medalist who is attempting a comeback at age 31.
And that's just the local competition. There's also the likes of returning Olympians Brendan Hansen, Eric Shanteau and Mark Gangloff. Hansen is the former world record holder in the 100m and 200m and a silver medalist in the 100 breaststroke at the 2008 Beijing games. Shanteau also is an inspirational story, having been diagnosed with testicular cancer weeks prior to the 2008 Olympic Trials.
"I don't think there is a favorite," UA swimming coach Eric Hansen said. "I wouldn't bet on that race, either the 100 or 200 breast."
Titus realizes what he's up against in trying to claim one of two American berths, but believes he is swimming better now than he ever did while competing for the University of Arizona.
"I feel confident," Titus said. "I'm excited and ready to go. I just have to have a great day, a great race."
Titus, who can hear with the help of a hearing aid and also uses a sign-language interpreter, might feel a lot less confident had the hand-signal issue not been resolved. Without hand signals to indicate when to get on the block or take his mark, Titus would have to rely on the swimmers next to him, putting him at a disadvantage in a race that could be decided by hundredths of a second. He begins races at the signal of a strobe light that is synchronized to the starting gun.
"I was relieved when they said they would use the hand signals," Titus said. "I was hoping that I could get more standard procedure so I don't have to worry about it when I'm focusing for my race."
USA Swimming national team director Frank Busch, who coached Titus during a 22-year stint at Arizona, explained that officials made the decision in April not to use hand signals at the trials so as to mirror the circumstances expected in London.
Titus took to social media to petition for a change, and it didn't take long for Busch to bring Titus' situation to the attention of officials, who agreed without hesitation to change the policy.
"They understood, and they want it to be right for everybody," Busch said.
If Titus qualifies in Omaha — and Busch says it's a very real possibility — the next battle will be on the international level. Busch would then lobby the international swimming body, FINA, and the International Olympic Committee on Titus' behalf for the use of hand signals in London.
"I hope Marcus makes the team so I can do that for him," Busch said. "I would think (the IOC) could go either way on something like this. They could dig their heels in or they just say, 'You know, this is really no problem whatsoever.'
"You would think in this day and age, they would look at it from a standpoint of this not being a problem."
Added Eric Hansen: "I would like to think that there will be hand signals in London because to put somebody at a disadvantage due to a physical issue is not right. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, and they'll take care of it and do what's right."
Titus, of course, would welcome the fight, because it would mean he had gotten that far. By qualifying for the Olympics, Titus could at least bring attention to the issue, even if the IOC does not make a change.
"He's a guy who's had just about as much success as you could imagine a swimmer having, and that's the next step," Hansen said. "Getting (to London) would bring a lot of awareness to it."
But the cause, Titus said, is not just about him or his dreams of Olympic glory.
"I'm just trying to make a change," Titus said. "It's not about if I make the team, I want to change it. I want a change from the present into the future for future deaf athletes so it can be fair for everybody and not just for me."