Los Angeles Times

Not to be silenced

There is a philosophy in the Tubert family that all of its members live by: "This is your journey, and what do you want to do with it?"

Following that credo, father Marcelo has become a successful actor and voice-over artist and mother Lori is a successful writer, videographer and singer. Even eldest daughter, Emily, has embraced the philosophy, as the Burroughs High graduate is a championship golfer, winning league and CIF Southern Section titles, a national amateur title and is now parlaying her skills into a fine freshman season playing for the University of Arkansas women's team.

"As parents, we wanted to help launch our children out into whereever they wanted to go in life," Lori said. "We wanted to let them accomplish the things they wanted to do."

None of the Tuberts has embodied the philosophy more than youngest daughter, Sarah, a senior at Burbank High.

The journey hasn't been an easy one for Sarah, however. When she was just 3, she endured what Lori called a botched surgery, which took most of her hearing and left the toddler with a severed facial muscle and permanent paralysis.

Sarah said it was often difficult for her growing up, as she struggled to come to terms with her disability. As a young girl, she just wanted to fit in.

"Growing up, it was a little hard for me because I was very self-conscious and I was very closed-minded," she said. "I felt like I couldn't do a lot of things. I remember going up to my parents and telling them I was the dumbest one in class. I really didn't realize what I could accomplish."

Her parents made a concerted effort to ensure that their daughter received everything she needed to live a quality life. Marcelo and Lori made it a point to not only have Sarah learn sign language, but they realized the importance of having her be able to communicate in the auditory world as well.

"When she was little, we immediately got her a hearing aid and the things that she needed, and we gave her all the sound we could," Lori said. "We just wanted to give her as much sound as possible. But with that, we also wanted her to learn sign language and be able to use that. We didn't want to make the decision of one thing or the other; we wanted her to learn both."

Because of that exposure, Sarah is rare in the fact she is a deaf person who is fluent in speech as well as sign language.

Instead of surrendering to the limitations that hinder many deaf individuals, Sarah has made sure to live her life without boundaries.

Lori said the turning point in her daughter's life was when they found the deaf and hard-of-hearing program at Burbank's Washington Elementary School.

"Sarah Tubert would not be the well-adjusted, incredible person she is today if it wasn't for the Tripod program in Burbank," Lori said. "The reason why we even moved to Burbank was because of the program. Burbank is an unbelievably aware and forward-thinking school district when it comes to deaf students."

Sarah said her life was invigorated once she enrolled at Washington.

"That's when I went from thinking I was the dumbest person in class to realizing that I was smart, and I could really accomplish anything that I wanted," she said. "The Tripod program has helped me so much. It's taught me that although I might be unique, that won't stop me from doing anything."

That transition put Sarah on a new life path. That path has included a wealth of success in athletics.

The 17-year-old has become an all-league standout in girls' water polo and volleyball at Burbank, and plays for the championship Santa Monica Beach Club volleyball team.

For volleyball, Sarah wears a hearing aid. But because of the water, she isn't able to wear it when she plays water polo.

"She can hear the loud horn and the whistle during water polo games without her hearing aid," Lori said. "But she can't hear anyone talking, or anything like that. But in volleyball, she wears her hearing aid and she can hear a little more."

Last summer, Sarah became the youngest member of the USA National Deaf Women's Volleyball Team, and will get the chance to compete in the World Volleyball Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria in 2012 and the Deafolympics in Athens, Greece in 2013.

Recently, Sarah earned a full scholarship to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Gallaudut was the first school for the advanced education of the deaf and hard of hearing in the world, and is still the only higher education institution in which all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

Sarah said she plans on studying teaching and ultimately hopes to become an instructor for deaf and hearing-impaired students.

Along with her athletic prowess, Sarah has become a leader and role model at Burbank High. She helps tutor other deaf students and even assists with the Bulldogs' boys' volleyball team.

"People tell me I'm a role model, and I appreciate that," she said. "If I can show a little boy or little girl that you can do this or you can do that despite your disability, and you can be whatever you want to be, that's what I'm here for. I want them to know that just because you're a little different, you can still do whatever you want to do."

Although she said she will miss competing in water polo — as she helped the Bulldogs win the program's only Pacific League championship in 2009 — she is excited about moving forward in volleyball.

"Making the national team was just incredible," said Sarah, a 5-foot-11 setter. "I'm really excited to be playing in college, in a sport that I love. It's great to know that all of my hard work is paying off."

Lynn Ray Boren is the women's coach at Gallaudet. He also happens to be Sarah's coach on the national team. Boren said he is looking forward to working with the young player.

"She is 5-11 and her position is setter," he said through an e-mail. "It is rare to find a deaf/hard-of-hearing setter with that size in the nation. I can say that she is a gift in the USA deaf volleyball program [and] I know we can develop her.

"The strengths that I see in her are her ball-handling, soft-touch setting and the ability in doing different techniques in serving."

Tubert's success has come about because of a great deal of hard, work, effort and love, not only from herself, but from her family as well. And there's no doubt that her journey in life still has a long way to go.

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