Signature recently interviewed European Deaf Futsal champion and Deaf Sport’s personality of the year Zara Musker to find out more about her life and how it led to her amazing recent successes.
Zara Musker, an experienced member of the team, she plays both football and futsal. Her journey is a unique one as she found her way with the national team and has had its fair share of ups and downs. It is one that has developed her into a great champion for para football while also retraining as an audiologist, so she can help others in a similar position.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into football?
So, my name is Zara Musker, i’m 26 years old and I play futsal for England Deaf women & Manchester. Im now also training to become a Clinical Scientist in Audiology. I first started playing football at around 5 years old as I come from a very sporty family whereby my mum, dad and brother all play or played. I lived in an area where there wasn’t many girls but lots of boys playing football so that’s what I did after school and on the weekends. My mum would take me to Blackburn Rovers games and I just fell in love with the game. Ive had bilateral hearing loss since I was 18 months old and I grew up using one hearing aid in my right ear (I considered this to be my better ear!). I come from a hearing family, I was the first deaf child they had come across. In 2020, I lost all my hearing in my right ear which led to me receiving a cochlear implant.
What does being deaf mean to you?
Throughout my life, being deaf and what that means to me has changed massively. Growing up in the hearing world and being often, the only deaf person in the classroom, football team, social event meant that I was the one with a weakness. I never discussed my hearing loss until 2020 when I lost it all. Im sad that it took that long for me to embrace it but its important to know that societal pressures and just wanting to ‘fit in’ is normal. However, embracing my deaf identity now has changed my life. I do not look at my deafness as a disability, I look it as an ability. It has given me the ability to talk about it, show people that you can be deaf but still do whatever you put your mind to. I’m very passionate about improving communication, awareness and accessibility for any deaf individual going into any situation. I can’t change my hearing loss and I will always be deaf, but I can change the way I portray myself and what I do with my deafness to help others who may struggle.
How do you think being deaf has affected playing football?
For me growing up, my hearing aids were great and even though sometimes I would struggle, I never really remember having any real hard times. Most of the difficult times were when it was raining outside and my hearing aids would go off because of the rain! I managed to find a cover for them and used a headband for double protection and that worked! Thinking back now, I would hate it if it was windy because it would be harder to hear but subconsciously, I would always make sure i’m in the best place for me to be able to hear. So I would make sure that I was near the front or I could see the coach’s face to be able to lipread. Now, I have one cochlear implant and I can struggle to hear when on an 11aside pitch because it is so big! I play in a team with some of my best friends and they understand and always make an effort to make sure I can hear the information I need. I play in the centre of the field and if important information needs to be relayed to me, i’ll either get the coach to tell me when the ball has gone out or I will get the winger to pass on the information to me when the time is right. Football is a difficult environment to hear in but I think if you express to your coach or teammates how is best to communicate with you during the game, that’s the best way. It can take time to feel confident to do this, sometimes I would message the coach or ask if I could meet them and discuss what is best for me.
How long have you been playing futsal for?
Ive been playing futsal since I was 14 years old. I was training with Blackburn Rovers when my manager told me that Julie Callaghan (Ex England Deaf Womens manager) wanted me to go and train with the team. I was extremely reluctant for a number of years as I had never met another deaf person and at this time, I hadn’t really even thought about my hearing loss. Im now 26 and playing in the England Deaf Futsal team has changed my life and the experiences I have been able to take from the team is invaluable. Its made me a better person and has really helped me along my deaf identity journey.
The Deaf Futsal Euros were a massive success for yourself and the team as you went on to win it, how much did winning this competition mean to you?
Effectively, I had been waiting to win the Euros for just under 10 years. In the past we had been so close but missed out due to experience in the final minutes of the futsal game. I felt 10 years of constant training, sacrifice and determination just leave my body when the final whistle blew. I was exhausted from the tournament itself as they are extremely intense but I was so proud of the whole team. It was about time we won and sent a big message out to the rest of the world that we are not backing down and we are here to compete. I think its just the start for the team, we have some huge young talent in and around the team alongside some very experienced futsal players.
What do you believe made the England team stand out from the rest?
We took a lot of hurt from the past tournaments into Italy with us, we also had to fundraise to even be there which brings a lot of emotion into the games. Every morning we would get together as a team and it felt like a family, off the court and on the court. Things like team cohesion, communication and tactics just gave us that 1% extra. We all knew we had a point to prove, individually and as a team. Everything about the way we conducted ourselves as a team to the way we played on the court, I could tell that something special was about to happen.
What is one thing you would like to change to help the deaf community?
Like I have said previously, i’m extremely passionate in deaf accessibility, communication and awareness. Especially since COVID19 and now with working within healthcare. Unfortunately, you do always have in the back of your mind that you have to be successful for others to not look at your deafness before your actual ability. I want to help remove the stigma around deaf people not being able to achieve the same as hearing peers. Its also such a shame that the recognition that deaf people get in comparison to hearing peers is so unequal despite overcoming challenges and still being successful.
What advice would you give to boys and girls around the country with a hearing loss that want to follow in your footsteps and play for their country?
Keep playing football or futsal, but enjoy it! Be confident in your communication needs and if you don’t feel confident enough to tell your coach or yourself, reach out to someone you trust and ask them to.
What was the DSPY awards like?
It was an amazing experience for me and the team. It was nice to be recognised and meet so many other successful individuals. I think its really important to be around like minded individuals who share the same values and beliefs as you.
You recently won the Deaf Sports Personality of the year award; how did it feel to win this?
I still haven’t really processed winning the award because I was straight back into work on the Monday and its been full on! It was an honour to be nominated, never mind to even win the award. Ive worked hard all my life, i’ve had so many set-backs and continued to compete at the highest level I can. A massive personal achievement to win the award but I was ecstatic for the team to win the team award. Futsal is a team sport and I wouldn’t have even been nominated for my award without the support of my teammates.
Have you got any exciting plans for the future?
Well its quite busy! So we are preparing to go to Brazil in November for the World Futsal Championships. We have a few camps before November which include trips to Ireland and Seville. Next year is the Deaflympics in Turkey so i’m hoping to be picked for that and then the Deaf Champions League in Hungary. Academically, I am aiming to graduate next year and become a qualified Clinical Scientist in Audiology which is extremely important to me.