Mykenzie’s Olympic dreams: training as a Deaf gymnast

By Rachel Janis, staff writer

Mykenzie Pfeiffer
Gymnastics is Mykenzie Pfeiffer's world. The 13-year-old is at the gym 12 hours a week, training. She recently earned first place in the uneven bars at the Blaine Wilson Sportsfest and is already a hopeful for the 2024 Olympics in Paris. This wasn't always the case. Mykenzie was born with enlarged vestibular aqueducts, or EVA, and experienced hearing loss at a very young age. When she was 6 and 7, she competed in trampolining events, even placing fifth and ninth at national competitions. She then became completely deaf after contracting a virus one winter. Her cochlear implant surgery involved drilling holes in her skull, which meant hitting her head could be potentially very dangerous for Mykenzie. So, she undertook a new athletic activity: hip-hop dancing. It wasn't long, though, before she felt the draw of gymnastics. She tried the dance and she liked it, but she just really had a passion for gymnastics, said Mychel Pfeiffer, Mykenzie's mom. She begged and begged to go back to gymnastics. But she wanted to do, as she called it, the 'real gymnastics,' which is the artistic gymnastics. She wanted to compete on the bars, and the floor, and the beam, and the vault. Mykenzie floor routine Mykenzie returned to gymnastics at age 11, but this time, instead of trampolines, she began practicing on the vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and mat. Her doctor approved the sport so long as she remained vigilant about protecting her head. Because of the four-year gap, she took from gymnastics after her surgery, Mykenzie said she had some difficulty regaining her flexibility. As she exercised, practiced, and challenged herself, her love of the sport only grew. "She's taught herself a lot of things, a lot of the stunts that she does just doing them out in the yard, in the house," Mychel said. "She tumbles all through the house. It's something that she really loves to do. She really loves to tumble and she would be in the gym every day if she could." It wasn't long before American Eagles Gymnastics invited Mykenzie to join their team. She's now a level 5 and 6 gymnasts (out of 10 levels) and typically competes once a month from November through May. She has had to make some adjustments to her practice of the sport due to her hearing loss. Mykenzie opts to stage her floor routine without her hearing aids since she can't pause her performance to readjust them. Her coach claps to signal to Mykenzie when the music begins. Since she can't hear the music to signal the beat, these performances are sometimes tricky for her. Her inability to hear the music hasn't hindered Mykenzie, though. In fact, she received a 9.0 on her floor routine at the TOPS Super Challenge. Mykenzie's hearing loss can also impede her balance, making the balance beam one of her most challenging events. These challenges haven't held Mykenzie back from dreaming big. She hopes to compete in the 2024 and 2028 Olympics. Her Olympic hero? 2012 and 2016 Olympic medalist Aly Raisman. When I watched the 2012 Olympics, I just really wanted to go because it looked really fun and you get to travel around the world, she said. This dream received a well-deserved boost when she trained with Olympian Shawn Johnson. Johnson is an American gymnast who won the gold medal for the balance beam and the silver medal for the team, all-around, and floor exercise at the 2008 Olympics. Mykenzie balance beam Johnson told Mykenzie the Olympics could be within her reach. "She helped coach her on the balance beam," Mychel said. She was there for the whole week at gymnastics camp with the girls. That was really interesting. I think that really sparked a lot more interest in it (competing at the Olympics) because she told Mykenzie that it is a possibility, that she would have to work really hard at it to make it to the Olympics, but it's not impossible. Mykenzie treasures that memory. She was super, super-nice, Mykenzie said. She helped me a lot. I told her about going to the Olympics, and she told me to just work really, really hard, and (she said) she thinks I would make it one day." Mykenzie said she believes other deaf and hard of hearing kids can achieve their dreams, as well. "If someone's picking on you, don't listen to them, because you know different," Mykenzie said. "You don't have to do anything they say, and you do what you want to do."