Feeling the Rhythm

By Tony Dreibus – March 1, 2015
photography by Brian Fitzsimmons

As the lead ’cycologist’ at Cyc Fitness, Rachel Grosz, 23, puts her clients through a 45-minute, sweat-inducing, weight-lifting spin ride, keeping to the beat of the music blaring in the studio just north of downtown Austin.

The thing is, she can’t actually hear the music. 

“I have the worst job for a deaf person,” said Grosz who moved to Austin from Madison, Wis., in July. “I teach a beat-based class, and my job is to keep the rhythm.”

Grosz wasn’t supposed to be an active person. After contracting an inner-ear infection called viral labyrinthitis as a 1-year-old, she was left with very little hearing in her right ear and none in her left. It threw off her balance and doctors said she would never be able to participate in any activity that required any semblance of coordination.

That lasted two years. 

When she was 3, Grosz was taken to see The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s fairy tale ballet of a prince, the Mouse King and the Sugar Plum Fairy. It was then, she said, that she fell in love with dancing. Her mother, who’d never told her what the doctors had said, enrolled her in a ballet class.

“I was just like the other kids,” Grosz said. “Clumsy, a little off kilter, head probably still weighing more than my body. But I had no clue that I wasn’t like everyone else; that I was any different.”

She continued dancing, focusing on ballet, until she was a sophomore in college, accomplishing many goals along the way as a class leader. But because ballet dancers are under incredible amounts of scrutiny about their weight, height, strength, and grace, it began to take a toll on her emotionally, she said, so she hung up her slippers. 

Without the activity that had consumed her life for more than 15 years, there was a noticeable void in her life.

To fill it, she turned to another activity that requires strong feet: running. It wasn’t something that came naturally to her as she’d only run maybe two miles at a time prior to taking up the sport. But soon she was hitting the pavement almost every day. 

She started running short races—a 5K here, a 10K there. That was soon followed by a couple of half marathons, and eventually a full marathon: The St. Jude’s Marathon in Memphis, Tenn., in December 2012.

It wasn’t easy, she admitted, and at about mile 20 she was ready to be done. But she persevered, as runners do, as she has done her entire life, accomplishing something she never dreamed possible. 

“I had found something no one could tell me I couldn’t do,” Grosz said. 

No person, that is. Her knees, however, were screaming. Searching for some sort of cross training, a friend suggested she give cycling a try. More specifically, Cyc Fitness. 

The Cyc method of fitness is a beat-based, intensive spin workout using weights and mimicking moves seen in several sports such as volleyball, boxing and swimming. Because it’s beat-based, she at first found it difficult because she couldn’t keep time and couldn’t hear the instructor—all of the sounds were jumbled into one through her hearing aid. Still, she muddled along. 

As with any good workout, sweat was in ample supply. Not wanting to damage her hearing aid, Grosz said, she would take it out.

“It’s like a light bulb went on,” she said. “All the treble went away, but I could hear the bass. That was all I needed, to hear the bass and a little bit of the instructor’s voice.

“When I figured out [that I could] ride without my hearing aid, the entire thing changed for me. It was just me and that beat.”

The hardest part about being hearing impaired isn’t the inability to hear, she said, it’s that she’s missed a lot—that is, she’s been left out of certain groups and felt unqualified for certain jobs. As a child, kids made fun. 

Because of that, Grosz said, she tried to hide her impairment. She wouldn’t tell people she couldn’t hear them and would often miss parts of conversations despite the partial hearing in her right ear and being able to read lips. She’d stand with other kids and act like she knew what they were saying, taking cues from those around her. 

“Growing up, I really tried to avoid telling anyone about my disability,” she said. “I tried to fit in with everyone else and act like I was no different. A lot of that came from being teased.”

She doesn’t hide it any longer, and speaking with her you probably wouldn’t know she was deaf. Instead she finds ways to compensate for her hearing loss, including when she’s instructing a class at Cyc. She’s gotten good at hearing—actually feeling—the beat in her chest. The “thump-thump-thump” is easily felt thanks to a good sound system, and she often falls back on her years of dance training when she had to keep time or avoid falling behind during a routine. 

“When I can’t hear the beat, I feel it, because I’ve been keeping the rhythm for so long,” Grosz said. 

Grosz said the biggest problem when instructing isn’t hearing the music; it’s hearing herself. Knowing how much to project her voice into the microphone can be difficult because she can’t hear what the riders in the class can. To make sure she’s speaking to her clients at the correct volume, she brings in an instructor about once a week who tells her if she’s talking at an appropriate level. 

She’s gotten good at “feeling” how loud she’s talking. 

Grosz has come a long way from the infant whose doctors said she’d never be an active person. From being a ballet dancer for more than 15 years to accomplishing a marathon to becoming the lead cycologist who manages and trains instructors at Cyc Fitness in Austin, she’s found there’s little she can’t accomplish. 

She’s often reminded of her favorite sayings—”I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

People can accomplish more than they think, Grosz said, and she’s living proof of that. Doctors said she’d never be active—she proved them wrong. She couldn’t hear the music at first—then she realized she didn’t need to hear it because she could feel it. 

As for staying fit, life can be a struggle, but she honestly believes that those who put forth the effort to overcome any obstacle they face can attain their goals. 

”If you’re of the mindset that you can’t, then you won’t,” Grosz said. ”For me, I have to accept that I need to work harder to be able to do the things that everyone else can do without effort. But every time I feel like something is holding me back, I find a way to not let it hold me back.”



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