This year, it was finally Jeff Mansfield ’08’s turn.
He had played hockey since he was 7 years old. He had spent two years trying out and training for the 2007 U.S. Winter Deaflympics team. In February, in Salt Lake City, in the second round of what is often called the Deaf Olympics, he finally had his chance to start as goalie.
His performance was worth the wait. He led his team to a 4–1 victory over Sweden — and eventually to a gold medal. Mansfield “was the reason that we won the gold,” head coach Jeff Sauer said.
The victory was only one of the accomplishments Mansfield achieved this year, including learning Danish as he spent the fall semester in Denmark.
Mansfield said that he was surprised by the attention the Deaflympics victory received, adding that “there was never much doubt” he would leave the competition as a champion.
“After the Olympics, so many members of the deaf community reached out to us and proclaimed us heroes,” he said in an e-mail. “It was just mind-boggling — all we did was play a child’s game.”
At Princeton, Mansfield, who is majoring in architecture, played varsity hockey as a freshman but “momentarily lost focus” as a sophomore and switched to the club team.
“It was thoroughly enjoyable,” Mansfield said of the club experience. “It made me realize that hockey is what I have the most fun doing.”
Mansfield spent last fall studying in Denmark. Despite the double challenge of adjusting to a foreign language in a hearing environment, he described his transition as “almost seamless.” He was helped in part by the widespread use of English in Scandinavia and by a roommate who was studying Danish Sign Language. Princeton also arranged for two American Sign Language interpreters to accompany him — a level of support that Mansfield said few students receive from their colleges.
By the time he left Denmark, he had picked up enough Danish to read a newspaper and to start a conversation. His biggest problem was hockey-related: In November he tore a ligament and ruptured a tendon in his ankle, so he was unable to put on skates until two weeks before the Deaflympics.
Manfield gives the impression that language barriers rarely stand in his way. At Princeton, he is the only student who communicates primarily through use of American Sign Language, and he has quickly adapted to the situation — as have his classmates and teammates.
The toughest adjustment to playing with a deaf teammate, said former club hockey captain Matty Valvano ’06, was “insecurity on the part of the rest of the squad, who may not have known the ‘proper’ way of dealing with the situation.” The team succeeded when members decided to “just play hockey,” he said.
Mansfield was unfazed by the challenge of being deaf at Princeton. “It’s nothing I haven’t done before,” he said.