Life As a Blind and Deaf Hockey Fan

A look at how the game changes when you struggle to watch or listen to it.

From a very, very young age, my fuelling passion was the game that Canadians love and your parole officer seems to hate — hockey. My old man raised me to be a Leafs fan, and growing up, my favourite players were always the grinders and the tough guys. There was nothing like witnessing Tie Domi go out and beat-in the face of anyone that crossed him. The enforcers were badasses to the core. Drunk hecklers loved them, church deacons hated them, and they had to constantly fight and sacrifice to maintain their relevance. They took their problems down to the smackdown hotel and shut them the hell up. That really hit home, as it reminded me of my life and the battles I dealt with growing up. Because the day I was born, my parents were told I was destined to be a vegetable.

My name is Christian Holmes, and I have a disability called “Moebius Syndrome”, a disability that has left me blind, and deaf. (Not to mention my face being paralyzed, along with half my throat). The doctors said that I would never be able to walk, talk, or do anything that “normal people” could do, let alone ride a bike or watch sports. If Columbus was wrong (and Kyrie’s right), I may as well have just fallen off the edge.

I grew up in a small Christian town in Ontario, called Fergus. (The irony in that is real. Trust me, folks, I know). From the tender-ish age of three, my first hero was the Lord. And I don’t say it to be a jackass. I actually mean it. I wasn’t supposed to have the ability to listen to a Metallica album and the wherewithal to grasp what was going on when James Hatefield sang, “SAD BUT TRUE”.

But thanks to His greatness (and my Mom’s form of “bend back into shape therapy”) that wasn’t the case. She basically created my own physiotherapy routine that she’d perform day-in, day-out, until the point where I could sit up straight and walk up and down the stairs and crawl into my bed. She also figured out a way to bottle feed me, by pressing my paralyzed lips together, so child protective services wouldn’t have to force the doctors to put a tube in my stomach. Not only was I eventually given the gift to do the things that most people take for granted, but I was also given the ability to find my second hero, longtime NHL tough guy, numéro vingt-huit, Tie Domi.

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The first time I watched Tie play was when I was four years old. The Leafs were playing the Rangers and Tie beat the absolute snot out of this sixty-cent player that had taken a cheap shot at Sundin. I instantly realized how integral a player like Domi was to his team. He didn’t get the glory of flashier names, but he fought for every ounce of admiration he received. He was a part of the “Brotherhood” and he upheld “the code”. By Domi doing what he did, it showed me how loud his actions truly were and how respected he was. Later on in the period, Sundin scored and saluted Tie on his way back to the bench. That gave me chills.

I got the chance to meet Tie in person two years later when I was six. The Leafs had just beaten the Canadiens, thanks to a pair of goals from Stajan. It was surreal. As I entered the locker room, Stajan shook my hand and said hello. Darcy Tucker stopped by to give me a high-five. Then the “man of the hour”, Tie Domi came and greeted me. He was wearing a beautiful black suit with a sharp pink tie. He had a bit of a bruise on his cheek after fighting with a Chris Nilan wannabe. Tie picked me up, gave me a special customised Tie Domi winter hat (one that I still wear to this very day) and said to me, “I got in a fight for you tonight, buddy!” My mom says that I followed up by saying, “Right on!”

Tie always had your back, even with me. A CBC cameraman called me “ungrateful” because I wasn’t smiling (not knowing that I actually couldn’t smile). Tie went up to the cameraman and stared him right in the eye and said a few things. The cameraman quickly said sorry to me and ran out of the locker room. Tie then picked me up and told me not to take shit from anyone. He said to keep my head up and keep kicking life in the butt, because he said he knows that I’m going to go far in life.

So how do I see hockey games exactly?

Well, I’m legally blind but thanks to my hefty prescription glasses that have more prisms in them than a Pink Floyd album cover, I can see a vast majority of things that others can on TV. I have a hard time tracking the puck when I’m watching hockey, but I developed a formula to help me keep sight of the puck at all times. I use my index finger to keep my eyes steady on the puck. Yes, it has its downfalls but for the most part, it works. Especially when I’m watching hockey live. A lot of people will be like, “What the fuck are you doing?” I’ll be like, “I’m following the puck.” Before the game, I try and get a sense for the “feel” of the game. If it feels like it’s going to be lacklustre, I tend to pay less attention to what’s going on in the play and just “listen” to the game. If it’s one of those crazy games where everything is happening, I try to use my left eye to see what’s going on throughout the ice and I use my right eye to focus more on the puck.

For people that don’t know me, it’s always weird because I have no side vision and to compensate for that, I’m always moving my head around left and right. I can see why people think it’s odd, but I once had a scout tell me at a Niagara Ice Dogs game that I pay way more attention to the game then most of his colleagues do. I was like, “Holy shit! Really?” He nodded and then we talked about Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton for the rest of the night. I tried to sell him on the fact that Strome was overrated and Hamilton was going to be the better player out of the two, thanks to right-handed shot, and offensive touch (not to mention his size and strength). He rolled his eyes, but in the end, guys like Brian Burke ended up agreeing with me, and that’s all that matters.

As for how I hear hockey, it’s a deaf by the killswitch scenario. I wear something called a Bone Anchored Hearing Device (aka a BAHA). How it works is actually really simple. There is a peg that it snaps onto in the left side of my head. When the BAHA is turned on, it vibrates through my skull and sends sound to my middle ear so I can hear. In technicality, I actually do “hear” voices in my head. They talk to me, but I don’t always understand them. Thanks to the recent advances in technology, my current BAHA has Bluetooth capabilities which means I can literally listen to music on the darn thing. Not to mention, stream the Fan 590 onto it. It really helps me with keeping my eye on the puck. I hear Joe Bowen’s vibrations. I listen to him point out the big stuff going on in the game, and than I follow it with my index finger.

My BAHA doesn’t compensate for everything though. I’m still hard of hearing, even when listening to the Irish man belt, “HOLY MACKINAW!” When I watch sports on TV, it’s sometimes hard to hear what the announcers are saying because the background noises blend in with their voices. That’s why I learned to be very attentive to what’s going on and have that other level of awareness when I’m watching games. If I don’t have that six sense, I end up missing most of the important things like big battles along the boards, clever little chip outs by the d-men and stellar backchecks by the forwards. To me, it can be a curse sometimes, but in the end, it’s a blessing in disguise.

Now before you give me pity, just remember this; I don’t see my disability or any of the complications I face today as a punishment from Satan. I do see it as a gift from Himself (or a/the higher power that counselors talk about at the 12 step AA recovery program). Living with my complications can be hard, but as I always say, “It is what it is. Take it or leave it.” I’m lucky to be where am I. The day I forget that is when Hell freezes over. Although, with Nick Foles and the Eagles in the Super Bowl, some people may argue that’s already happened.

I want to be the next Don Cherry, and have a cornerstone show that every Canadian needs to tune into on a Saturday night. That involves building credibility in the hockey industry, but I’m willing to put in the hard work. Not to sound condescending or full of myself, but I think I was put on this earth to prove people wrong and to break the glass barriers that are in place for people like me in today’s society. That’s what I believe I am doing now and that’s what I believe I will continue to do as I slip on through the sands of time. As the old saying goes, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight. It’s the size of the fight in the dog.” That’s a lesson Tie taught me. That’s a lesson I’ll never forget.

Christian Holmes
Christian Holmes
Christian Holmes is a senior writer for Grandstand Central, as well as an editor for Last Word On Hockey. Holmesy, as he is known by his peers, works to facilitate intimate one-on-one conversations with some of the most interesting personalities in sports. Not to mention, Holmes does also have a keen eye for writing powerful and thought-provoking stories.


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