Selkirk basketball star with hearing impairment honoured for triumph on the court

Annika Goodbrandson lost her hearing as a child, but she isn’t letting that stand in the way of her hoop dreams. 

Annika Goodbrandson is this year's recipient of Basketball Manitoba's Lena Wenke Courage Award

Selkirk high school student Annika Goodbrandson is the recipient of this year's Lena Wenke Courage Award from Basketball Manitoba. Goodbrandson was given the award for becoming an accomplished basketball player while living with hearing impairment. (Submitted by Annika Goodbrandson)

Annika Goodbrandson lost her hearing as a child, but she isn't letting that stand in the way of her hoop dreams. 

The Selkirk high school student and basketball player was recently honoured with the Lena Wenke Courage Award for becoming a star player while dealing with challenges from her hearing impairment. 

The award is given each by Basketball Manitoba to a Grade 12 student who faced and overcame obstacles or challenges in their life while staying involved in the sport. It's named for the University of Winnipeg basketball player who survived a vicious 2017 attack where she was stabbed multiple times. 

"I feel really honoured simply because I look up to Lena and look at what she has overcome," Goodbrandson said. 

"Everyone has different challenges in their life, so I think it's just really important to recognize that, in fact, everyone does have their own story."

Goodbrandson, 18, plays for her school, Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive Secondary High School, and has committed to playing for the CMU Women's Basketball program next season when she starts university. 

Overcoming obstacles 

Her family first realized she was deaf when she was in daycare. 

"I was looking out the window and my daycare provider was knocking on a window behind me and I wasn't responding," she said. 

She was fitted with hearing aids, but when those didn't work, she was fitted with a cochlear implant. 

In her application for the award, she described having her cochlear implant fail, which rendered her completely deaf until she could undergo surgery to have it replaced. 

"Once re-implanted, I was faced with the further challenge of 'relearning' how my new device processed sound, as it was completely different from my original device," she wrote. 

Goodbrandson said she never let her hearing impairment get in the way of her passion for basketball. (Submitted by Annika Goodbrandson )

In spite of these challenges, she says she never let her disability hold her back from playing the sport. Since she started playing for her high school team, she's helped them nab a 2017 provincial championship, and attended a national championship in Langley, B.C., the following year.

COVID-19 challenges 

Being hearing impaired presents its own unique challenges on the court. The acoustics of a gym setting make it very hard to use her cochlear implant, which means she often uses lipreading while playing, Goodbrandson said. 

But that hasn't been possible during COVID-19, so Goodbrandson and her teammates have come up with different ways of communicating, she said. 

"I've been very fortunate to grow up with the same girls over the past five years on a club team, and they've gotten to just say, 'Annika! Annika, look at the coach, look at the coach,' or we've actually come up with like hand signals for different defence that we're going to run," she said. 

Often, though, people don't even realize she is deaf at all, she said. 

"So I take that comment and I take the experience of growing up as a hearing impaired individual [as a lesson] to always just be humble and kind because you don't know everyone's situation," she said.

She hopes her story inspires others to persevere in spite of whichever challenges life throws their way. 

With files from Marjorie Dowhos