Ft. Zumwalt South cheerleader

A silent cheer

Ft. Zumwalt South cheerleader overcomes hearing impairment to compete at highest level

By Brett Auten

When on the stage and under the hot lights, in Mariah Green’s head there is constant counting.

One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight.

Over and over again.

That cadence is the norm for most cheerleaders, but for Green, it is especially important.

Green suffers from severe hearing loss since birth.

As her mother, Sheri Green, tells it she was exposed to a virus when pregnant that caused Mariah’s deafness.

“She wouldn’t respond the buzzer, almost like an alarm clock, during the ultrasound so we first expected, then knew right away about her hearing loss. It was progressive and got worse pretty quickly. She’s had minimal hearing from birth.”

Born in Las Vegas, as Mariah grew Sheri became aware of cochlear implants and through diligent research found that St. Louis had one of the top physicians in the country to perform the implant. At the age of three, Mariah got her first implant. By the time she turned eight, Mariah was begging for the second implant which she soon received.

“Once she got the second implant she was able to localize sounds better,” Sheri said. “She could determine where certain sounds were coming from. And in a noisy setting, it became easier for her to hear.”

Cochlear implants are designed to treat severe to profound hearing loss for people who are not receiving enough benefit when using hearing aids. Cochlear implants are different from hearing aids. Where a hearing aid only amplifies sound, a cochlear implant is designed to make sounds more crisp and clear, especially in noisy environments. The Cochlear Nucleus System, the device Mariah has, consists of two components: the external sound processor and the internal implant that is surgically placed underneath the skin, behind the ear. The implant is attached to an electrode that is inserted into the cochlea to help her hear. The Nucleus Sound Processor has two synchronized microphones to help continuously capture sound. When sound is captured by the sound processor, which sits behind the ear, the sound is converted to digital information and is transmitted to the internal implant, which sends sound signals to the brain.

“If I compare her progression with that of a normal hearing cheerleader, it didn’t hamper it at all,” Sheri said. “She progressed like a normal child without it.”

Mariah, 18, is a junior at Ft. Zumwalt South. She had tried soccer, swimming, and dance but never not being shy from being the center of attention or about being under the lights of a stage, Green began competitive cheer at the age of eight. 

Currently, she does competitive cheerleading for Cheer Legendz in Chesterfield and for her high school during football and soccer season. Mariah’s gym understood that as long as her coach was facing her, Mariah could read lips and understand.

“When we are working on a new routine we definitely count out loud when we’re learning it,” Cheer Legendz coach Katie Hazel said. “As she catches on she can do well on her. She is really pro-active and will come up right away and wants to know what it going on.” 

Mariah practices two-times-a-week and squeezes in private sessions to sharpen her tumbling skills, usually with coach Fernando Brown. 

“The one thing I learned that without her aides, she can’t hear really at all,” Brown said. “During her training, I make sure my gestures are all big and animated. Her mental strength to keep going and push through is amazing.”

Cheer Legendz formed its first competitive cheerleading teams in April 2006 and soon became widely known at competitions, traveling to multiple states each season and collecting trophies in mass along the way. Anthony Best is the Cheer Legendz co-owner, head coach, and chief cheerleading choreographer.

“It’s very impressive what Mariah does to keep up with everyone,” Best said. “The team doesn’t really acknowledge Mariah’s hearing deficit until they know they need to help out with the counting. They don’t give her special treatment.”

The only time Mariah runs into concern is when the beat of the music is quicker than the norm. 

“It can be really hard in some parts especially if the music is really fast,” she said. “I’m trying to get on the right count and there other kids moving around you, it can be hectic.”

Committed and driven, Mariah refuses to let a major setback keep her from doing what she loves at an extremely high level. 

“Nothing slows me down,” she said. “If you enjoy doing something – or actually love it – then don’t give up on that. Keep it going.”

CUTLINE: Photo by Ray Rockwell Mariah Green (center) stands with her mother Sheri Green and father Ben Green at the Cheer Legendz gym in Chesterfield.