At only 20 months old, Debbie Carey was diagnosed with a hearing impairment that has since impacted every area of her life and health. However, it hasn’t held her back from accomplishing what anyone else can—if not more! This 46-year-old mom has crushed marathons and IRONMANs. And when she’s not doing all things active, you can find her helping others get outfitted for fitness at Athleta. 

She learned to thrive with her disability at a young age when her parents put her in deaf school until age four. In an effort to challenge her, they enrolled her in a regular preschool setting, where she was able to keep up with the average student. It wasn’t always easy though. Others would make fun of her, which she could tell by reading lips.

In fourth grade, she discovered her love for baton twirling because of the sensation of counting steps and feeling the vibration. This was the first sport in which she excelled. She soon began traveling for competitions and racked up awards, which earned her a full scholarship to Mississippi State as a feature twirler.

Finding Her Sound

At the age of 26, Debbie’s life changed completely when she received a cochlear implant and could hear for the first time. Sounds like the ripping of paper and the blinkers on cars added new dimension to her everyday experience. But this also came with new (and sometimes difficult) adjustments, such as hearing all the background noises she never had to process before. Even now, Debbie says she sometimes takes off her cochlear implant to enjoy complete silence. However, she notes, “The best thing about having a cochlear implant was the ability to hear my kids crying, talking, and laughing.”

Finding Her Stride

It was after Debbie became a mother that she got into running. Within the community, she found friends and support. Together, they started training for a marathon. Her first was the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati—in her home state of Ohio. From there, she qualified for the Boston Marathon, which she ran in 2010. After crushing marathon after marathon, she decided to up the ante and began doing triathlons with a group. She’s completed multiple Half IRONMANS and the full Chattanooga IRONMAN in 2014.

Finding Time to Recover

The following year when she was at her peak, Debbie went for a bike ride in Germantown. This was just a few weeks after her father passed, and exercise was one day she was dealing with grief. However, her bike was struck by a car that was trying to speed in front of her to make a turn.

Luckily, she was unharmed and the only damage done was to the front wheel of her bike. “An angel was truly watching me,” she says.

Due to the trauma of the incident, Debbie took a long break from biking and swimming, instead just focusing on running and recently tennis. As a member of the Germantown Country Club, she’s been playing about three times a week. 

Finding the Starting Line Again

Exercise has always been important to Debbie from a young age, and she likes being a healthy role model for her daughters, Madison and Taylor. She now feels like it’s time to step back into competing. She’s currently signed up for IRONMAN Memphis 70.3 in October and will start training this summer. 

Finding Her Strength

Debbie does not see herself as any different from the average hearing person, but she still faces challenges. Her biggest pet peeve is when people raise the volume of their voice when speaking to her. “I used to tell them, ‘Why are you screaming at me?’” she says.

She acknowledges the difficulties, saying, “We all get discouraged. We all fall down but get back up stronger. My parents have taught me well, mentally, and having a sport really helped my confidence.” She also leans on her family. “I have a wonderful husband, Alan, who supports me 100% and two beautiful girls who keep me on my toes. I am thankful for them.”

By Halle Griggs
Photo by Tindall Stephens