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Sunday, December 1, 2013

American archer aims to help deaf people

Nick Sumandra is an American who is promoting archery to deaf people interested in medieval martial arts.

Archery for deaf people is nothing new - as a sport there is no reason why deaf people cannot learn it. Like many other sports it is just a matter of patience, practice and aiming for perfection.

On the right is a photo of Nick Sumandra, dressed in costume as "Nikolaos Phaistos", pulling back on 30 pounds of tension on his 17th century-style bow as he competes for the Queen’s Championship.

He didn't win, but he calls out "Hezzah!" - still acting in character as Phaistos in celebration for his fellow archers.
Outside of the medieval archery tournament, Nick Sumandra is a 40-year-old sign language interpreter at Pierce College, aiding deaf and hearing-impaired students in accomplishing their educational goals. During his free time and weekends, he assumes his 17th century persona, Phaistos, who to hear Sumandra tell it is much more than a mild mannered mercenary.

“Nikolaos Phaistos is a mercenary archer from the Greek island of Crete,” says Sumandra of his alternate persona. “He was hired by the Medici family to find their lost daughter, Cecilia.” Phaistos found Cecilia in Persia, but instead of returning her to her family, he joined her clan of warriors and her quest to make right in the world.

In other words it is basically a LARP - Live Action Role Playing - but with a heavy dose of historical inaccuracy (although they do try to be historically accurate with the costumes and weapons they use).

"That’s the fun part," says Sumandra. "You can make your own history in a true historical context even though it’s not real history."

Sumandra is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to research and re-creation of medieval and renaissance culture, according to organization officials. But education has very little to do with it, it is basically just a giant international club for medieval enthusiasts.

“The SCA holds archery tournaments, fencing competitions, heavy armor battles, which all lead to larger battles between kingdoms around the world in our international gatherings,” says Sumandra.

As a teen, Sumandra’s uncle taught him to shoot bows and arrows in his backyard. “I loved archery but knew that nothing would come of it in life,” he says.

Sumandra later put archery aside and, in his early 20s, began taking American Sign Language classes, which led to his current career as an interpreter at Pierce College.

Then, a friend of Sumandra’s told him about the SCA, and that there were archery tournaments and medieval recreation events every weekend.

"I went to my first archery tournament and felt, right away, that I was in my element," says Sumandra. "I went home that night and joined up."

That was four years ago. Since then, he has become a very active participant in weekly gatherings and has achieved the title of Chiron, the highest level of archery in the SCA. This position allows Sumandra to teach and train others within the organization.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg, as he also uses his signing skill when there are deaf or hearing-impaired people who want to participate in SCA festivities. Thus there is a growing number of deaf / hearing-impaired people joining in the festivities - because the fun spreads via word-of-mouth, or in this case word-of-sign-language to other people who become curious.

"Sure, signing is not [from that historical] period, but I want to make sure that everyone feels included and welcomed as friends," says Sumandra. "That’s what’s important to me, to live chivalrously and take care of people, and the SCA just gives me more opportunities to do that."

Glasses and hearing aids are not from that historical period either, but that certainly doesn't stop people from wearing sunglasses / glasses to the events or fashionable hearing aids in the event that they have hearing difficulties. The medieval equivalent of a hearing aid would be an ear trumpet, but that is hardly practical even within a medieval re-enactment society.

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