Courtesy photo / Andrew Ghizzone
Camera file photo
Courtesy photo / Andrew Ghizzone
Like his fellow seniors on the Colorado track and field team, Andrew Ghizzone gave it everything he had during his final competitive lap at Potts Field last weekend.
In the end, it wasn’t a race likely to be filed away at the forefront of Ghizzone’s memories as a member of the Colorado Buffaloes. Competing in just one event at the annual Colorado Invitational, the 400-meter run, Ghizzone posted a time of 50.21 seconds. All that got for Ghizzone was sixth in his heat and 20th overall.
However, those numbers don’t come close to telling Ghizzone’s true story, either as an athlete (he is more of a jack-of-all-trades who owns the program’s indoor heptathlon record) or as a person. As Ghizzone hit the stretch run of his final race in his final home meet, his biggest fan, who once again had traveled thousands of miles to watch Ghizzone compete for the entirety of 50.21 seconds, was unable to hear the surrounding cheers of support for her son.
Anne Ghizzone was born deaf. Yet her spirited devotion to her son and the exploits of the entire CU track and field program has reverberated quite loudly over the past four years.
“I didn’t realize it when I was younger, because she always kind of went to meets. But the fact that she would fly all the way out here to watch me run for 50 seconds, or see me do the pole vault for 10 seconds apiece, I really appreciate it,” Andrew Ghizzone said. “It doesn’t happen to everybody, and not everybody’s parents get to come out and see them all the time. My mom always makes the time for me and it’s been helpful my whole career.”
Anne Ghizzone is one of seven siblings, but the only one born deaf after her mother was stricken with German measles (also known as Rubella) during the pregnancy. She met her husband, Nick, when he was tutoring hearing-impaired students at Brookdale Community College in New Jersey.
At the time, Nick Ghizzone was a sign language novice himself. He admits he eventually began dating one of his students, drawn in immediately by Anne’s humor and gregarious personality. The couple will celebrate their 25th anniversary later this year.
“She is just really funny,” Nick Ghizzone said. “With her language ability, you would think that there’s a limit. But even though she can’t speak to other people, she is a way more outgoing person than I am. She’s outgoing, wants to talk to everybody, and is tons of fun. Up until now she can’t wait to meet people and talk to them and interact. She was just a funny, vibrant person I met during the process of me learning sign language. It was like a perfect combination.”
The middle child among three siblings, Andrew Ghizzone was no different than any other child born into an unusual situation. He had zero inkling his mother’s inability to hear was unusual at all, and he began assimilating sign language into his non-verbal vocabulary even before his own language skills developed.
“The only way I’ve ever had to communicate with her is sign language, and she would teach us,” Andrew Ghizzone said. “I learned sign language before I learned most English words. It’s a lot like any other language. You pick it up a little more easily when you’re younger. My dad would say stuff out loud in English and sign it while saying it. I don’t ever remember sitting down and taking a class or anything like that. All my siblings are fluent in sign language.”
Anne Ghizzone’s dedication to attending her son’s meets, regardless of whatever hassles ensue because she can’t hear, has made her a sort of “team mom,” to the Buffs, according to assistant coach Lindsey Malone. When senior jumper Rajon O’Quinn needed to take a foreign language course, she decided she wanted to learn sign language. When she first met Andrew Ghizzone and saw him signing with his mother near the stands at their meets, she found a real-world connection to embrace that put her academic pursuits into practice.
“I love it and didn’t know it was a whole entire culture. That’s something a learned at CU,” O’Quinn said. “Between talking to her and him, it’s just phenomenal. They know a language that most people don’t know. I even brought Andrew’s mom and Andrew to my class because their community is that tiny. I like talking with (Anne) at the meets because there’s a different pace with her than in the classroom. It’s definitely faster. She slows down for me so I understand. We talk about track, Andrew, Andrew’s dog.
“It’s unique, but I love it. I love being able to talk with them and not be left out of the conversation.”
Opening a new world
Even though Nick Ghizzone spent a year on the track team at Seton Hall, he and his son both credit Anne, who grew up playing soccer, basketball, and softball, for their kids’ competitiveness and athletic ability. While it is an athletic family — Andrew Ghizzone’s brother is a hurdler at Rutgers, and his grandfather ran track at Notre Dame — it is widely acknowledged that Anne is the family’s driving force.
That spirit has been evident in the manner Anne Ghizzone has conquered the world of social media.
For the generation represented by her own children, the communication platforms offered by various social media outlets are almost an afterthought. Griping about a pop quiz on Twitter. Sharing pictures of a night out on Instagram or Twitter. Yet for Anne Ghizzone, the emergence of such forums has been life-altering. Not only does she now chat routinely with Andrew via video messaging, but the lifetime of memories chronicled on her Instagram account are no different than anyone else.
“She’s really good at videos and photography, so she took to Instagram pretty well,” Andrew Ghizzone said. “It just opened up a new world because she was able to talk to all of her friends and be able to video chat with people. Now she can see what I’m doing across the country. She prefers Instagram to Twitter and Facebook. Before it was so hard to connect with even family members who were only a half-hour down the road. Now she can text someone in seconds, or video chat someone. It makes her entire life so much easier.”
While the Buffs’ home schedule ended with last week’s CU Invitational, Anne Ghizzone still has a few more meets to attend. She watched Andrew win the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation indoor heptathlon championship in Seattle two months ago, and Andrew, in turn, is relishing the stretch run of his track and field career after being forced to grow up in a hurry a decade ago.
“Andrew is a gregarious person too, but I don’t think he even realizes how profoundly it has affected having a mom who is deaf,” Nick Ghizzone said. “Most kids are not put in the situation where they have to be the voice for their parents. Andrew has that personality…when you go to the store with your mom, your mom is the one who does the talking to the clerks behind the counter. You go to a restaurant, your mom talks to the waiter. Andrew had to do that at eight or nine years old.
“It’s transparent to them because that’s the only way they’ve ever known. But I don’t think they realize how much of an affect it has.”
Pat Rooney: firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/prooney07