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“Communication is big:” Zach Carlone’s battle with a hearing disability

By Ian Carrano

Ever since he was three years old, sports were ingrained into his life. Whether it was hockey, cross country, track or lacrosse, Zach Carlone was always actively involved in sports as a whole. While he didn’t continue those sports into high school, there was always one constant in his life — hockey.

Transitioning from Mite Hockey at a young age to playing Division III college club hockey, there were plenty of experiences along the way that shaped his transition to becoming a student-athlete that perfectly blended his love for sports, communication and most importantly, his love for the game of hockey. 

Despite the positive elements the game of hockey gave him throughout his career, it hasn’t always been easy for Carlone, who has had to face many obstacles along the way off the ice to get where he is today.

Growing up in Berlin, Conn. with three brothers, Carlone was introduced to the game at an early age. With his cousin starting before any of them, he was motivated to play hockey early on — a common theme within a hockey family. 

Although many of his other family members played in the past, Carlone’s mother wasn’t fully onboard with the decision to play hockey at first, knowing the risks involved.

“When he wanted to play hockey, that was obviously nerve wracking for me because I didn’t want him to get hurt,” Lisa Carlone said. “His older brothers played hockey so of course it was kind of a natural thing like, ‘My brothers play, I want to play.’ But yeah, for me, it was definitely nerve wracking.”

Once his parents allowed him to continue playing, Carlone transitioned from Mite Hockey to Youth, Midget, High-School and finally college club hockey. 

Throughout the years, Carlone built many friendships during the various tournaments he played in, especially in high-school. Playing for Xavier High School, Carlone faced many of his fellow Youth teammates around Central Connecticut. 

Whether it was creating friendships with his former teammates or building relationships with some of his brothers’ teammates, Carlone believes the strong connections he built throughout the years was the most rewarding part of his hockey career.

“It really wasn’t playing that much because I wasn’t the best kid out there, I knew that,” Carlone said. “It was more about I have a ton of friendships with kids who I used to play back in youth hockey who are stronger than the relationships that I’ve had with people here. 

“Doesn’t mean I haven’t had them but it’s really just the relationships I’ve had and some of the coaches I’ve had even who’ve really taught me a lot about not only growing up and playing, but just growing up and being a person.”

While he was still trying to tackle an obstacle in learning how to skate and play hockey at a young age, Carlone was faced with a much bigger challenge when he was only 3 years old — overcoming a broken bone in his right ear that would permanently affect his hearing.

Seeing the accident firsthand, Carlone’s mother explained the November incident that would affect him going forward.

“So, his older brother, they were having a Halloween party at his school that we had donated a whole lot of pumpkins. So we had brought home a bunch of pumpkins to the school for the party and Zachary happened to be just walking by just as the ramp to the trailer fell,” said Lisa Carlone. “So it knocked his little 3-year-old body to the pavement under a nice 300-pound ramp — steel ramp. So yeah, it was not a good experience.”

Being brought into the hospital after the accident, she also remembers Carlone’s inability to talk for two weeks, which led to some early concerns.

“Then after the accident, of course he went over to the intensive care for a couple days and then he got to a regular room, but he still wasn’t talking. He wouldn’t talk at all. It wasn’t until the EMT’s and everybody started getting involved that we found out he does have the hearing loss.”

After being released from the hospital, Carlone still faced some challenges with his hearing. Throughout elementary school, he went to the Hartford Children’s Hospital and a doctor’s office in Farmington, Conn. to receive tests. These tests involved repeating words, listening to beats, and judging his hearing with or without the hearing aid. When taking him to his doctors’ appointments, Carlone’s mother experienced some of the difficulties that come with a hearing disability.

“I would go with him into audiology when he has his tests. They do the little beeps and the little sounds, and he’s supposed to hit the button and raise his hand,” she said. “He would just be sitting there. I’m like, ‘Don’t you hear that?’ To me, I hear it, but until you’re actually sitting there with him you realize, ‘Oh, he can’t hear that. It makes it difficult. He’ll miss hearing things and misunderstand things sometimes.”

As he progressed into middle school, Carlone started going to the doctors less frequently, but elementary school was where he felt the most discomfort.

“Elementary school was the big one for that and I got treated differently in elementary school because of it,” Carlone said. “Obviously you look at me now and it’s not that noticeable, but back when I had it in elementary school I would have a wire sticking off clipped to the back of it (the hearing aid) because I was a little kid and I probably would have fidgeted with it. It was very noticeable back then, but I just had to go through a lot honestly back then.”

As he grew older, the hearing disability became less noticeable as he grew accustomed to it, especially on the ice. Although he never wears his hearing aids while playing, Carlone explained why he doesn’t believe the disability has hindered his performance in the rink.

“It didn’t really play a big role for me except for small things like that. It ultimately didn’t change the way I played the game at all,” Carlone said. “If you ask anyone I’ve played with, honestly most of them probably will tell you they didn’t notice I had a hearing disability.”

While the disability does create some minor difficulties hearing teammates from the other end of the ice calling for passes or dump offs, Carlone still found a way to make his impact felt on the ice in his three years with the team, commanding respect even if he didn’t receive a lot of playing time.

Many of his teammates don’t believe it has affected their ability to coexist on the ice. Joey Partridge, who has played with Carlone since freshman year before he stepped away from the team to focus on school, noticed their strong chemistry on the ice from the start.

“We were on the same line for almost a year and a half. All of sophomore year and a little bit of freshman year. We both weren’t the most skilled guys but we both did what we had to do. We worked hard and Zach was especially good in the corners so chemistry was apparent,” he said.

Doug Shane recalls a moment in practice sophomore year that ultimately earned the respect of his teammates and coaches.

“He hadn’t been in the lineup much but had a huge hit on our captain Charlie Murphy in practice and so just for that hit, Coach put him in the lineup that Friday night,” he said.

Carlone’s big hit in practice not only earned him more playing time, but it spoke volumes to the type of player he was — a fearless competitor that worked hard for what he wanted.

“It definitely opened everyone’s eyes a little bit. I was certainly shocked by it. Even Charlie the captain, he got right up and tapped Zach on the pads. So it’s something that he was sick of being out of the lineup and saw an opportunity to show the coaches what he could do. It worked,” Partridge said.

Although he’s more of a laid- back player, Partridge explained how Carlone uses his work ethic, helps him lead by example and makes everyone better in practice.

“Freshman year was a little quiet as we all were, but sophomore year once we got a little more comfortable he started to be more vocal. He just put his head down and worked. It was one of the things that you could look at is this guy who doesn’t play a whole ton, but he’s still working hard to get better. Was something that was a lead by example for sure,” Partridge said.

That same work ethic and determination has also applied to his studies at Springfield College, where the disability hasn’t impacted his ability to transcribe interviews and audio as much as people think. Already adjusted to life with hearing issues, Carlone hasn’t had a difficult experience working towards a Communications/Sports Journalism degree.

“It’s not really that big of a challenge honestly, it’s just the transcribing of notes. It’s mostly just the whispering and murmuring I can’t hear. So if I’m interviewing somebody it’s really not going to affect that much at all. Maybe just a couple of words are off or something like that. I know sometimes I mess up quotes or something like that. That’s just natural.”

Understanding what he’s overcome through the years, Carlone’s disability didn’t hold him back, but instead fueled his passion for covering sports and building relationships with others.

“Having this kind of inspired me to do what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve always been into sports and just as soon as communications come to mind I’m just thinking about what I like doing,” said Carlone. “Communication is so big for me. I love telling stories and stuff. I just feel like this really inspired me to do what I really want to do.”

Taking what he already knows about hockey, Carlone’s knowledge about the sport has helped him succeed in the classroom, which Partridge believes will help him in his future professional journalist career.

“He knows his hockey. Whether it be on air or the radio, or he’s writing about it for the blog for Kyle Belanger’s class, he knows his stuff. When he gets an opportunity to talk about it, write about it, he’s going to succeed. He’s going to be a good journalist,” he said.

Carlone has faced many obstacles along the way with his hearing disability, but it hasn’t held him back from doing what he loves. Taking advantage of the opportunities hockey has given him and using his past struggles to help him in his career moving forward, Carlone’s disability wasn’t something that he let control his life. 

Instead he used it to motivate his career path in a field that’s built on his two main constants—sports and communications.

Photo courtesy of Evan Wheaton

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