`Obstacles can be overcome'

Amber Romney, 18, has faced a lot of challenges in her life as she has grown up and lived in the midst of music, laughter and sound - but her world is silent.

Amber of the Harmony Park Ward, Mesa Arizona Kimball Stake, is deaf.Although that may have made the hurdles higher, it hasn't stopped her from doing the things that she's wanted to do. Giving credit to her "stubborn, strong will," she has managed to excel in swimming, cheerleading and academics, and is surrounded by family and friends who love and support her.

She's never been one to back down from something that might be difficult; it only makes her try harder.

"I have a very good life for a person who doesn't have hearing," she said, using her mother, Stephanie, as an interpreter. "Everyone has their ups and downs, I try to have as many ups as I can."

One of only three deaf students at Mesa High School, she was recently crowned homecoming queen, giving her a feeling of acceptance, not only from her friends but also from other students. "I was really surprised," she said. "It was a real honor for me; just being nominated was a honor."

When Amber, who is the oldest of four children, was only 15 months old, she contracted spinal meningitis and spent 11 days in the hospital. After bringing their daughter home, the Romneys noticed that she wasn't responding the way she had previously and soon tests revealed she had suffered profound hearing loss due to the illness.

Looking back, Sister Romney said that her family made it through the hard times with a lot of support from family, friends, and ward members.

"Everyone just loved Amber," she said. "And she had that strong spirit, which was a good thing or she might be the kind of kid who sits in the corner twirling her hair and does nothing, but that has not been the case."

When Amber was 3 years old she started in the Mesa public schools preschool program for hearing-impaired children. There she took speech therapy, learned sign language and began reading lips. Her parents took night classes and also learned to sign.

During first grade, she continued with the hearing-impaired program at Emerson Elementary School, but also spent half of her day in a regular classroom there. The next year she was spending her entire day in the regular classroom with a personal interpreter at her side.

It was then that the Romneys asked why their daughter had to attend Emerson, which was across town, when they wanted her to attend their local school. "We really fought for that," said Sister Romney. "We wanted her to go to school with the kids she lived by, went to Church with and where her (younger) sister was going."

Officials of the Mesa school district relented and she became the first deaf student to be integrated into other public schools in Mesa. "Amber was the pioneer of that," said her father, Bill, who serves as bishop of the ward. She led the way for other children with hearing impairments to attend their nearby schools.

The Romneys' persistence perhaps set the example for their daughter. While attending Brimhall Jr. High she decided that she wanted to try out to be a freshman cheerleader. Some people questioned that decision. Undaunted, she tried out and made it.

"I wasn't sure of myself either," Amber said, "But after I did it I gained more confidence." She went on to do junior varsity cheer as a sophomore, and varsity cheer as a junior and senior.

She wrote an essay on her feelings about cheering and won third place last year in a national writing contest sponsored by Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. The contest was open to deaf students and the subject was "My Biggest Challenge."

She entitled her paper, "A Silent Cheer." In the essay, she expressed her feelings that "I just went for what I wanted, despite the fact that I am deaf. I couldn't hear the music or the cheers but with other people's help I could do it."

Her list of other accomplishments is long: she has participated on the varsity swim team for four years, has a 3.9 GPA, is involved in National Honor Society, Mayor's Youth Committee, Spirit Club and Junior Optimist Club, and was a Girls State delegate this summer.

"I think the things that have helped her be successful is that she has a very supportive family, is self-determined, and works hard," said Sister Aflague said of the Desert Vista Ward, Mesa Arizona Salt River Stake who acts as her interprter.

Still, there are times when Amber gets discouraged. It's then that she reflects upon her blessings to restore her positive attitude. "I just try to think about what Heavenly Father has done for me, how much my family loves me, how much my friends help me, and I read my patriarchal blessing and that lifts my spirit."

Continued on page 13

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