Hearing Well Goes Beyond the Individual

Life is on: Jim Ryun & Wife
Anne and Jim Ryun

By Jo-El M. Grossman, Phonak Communications & Content Manager

“Wearing Lyric for me, it’s a continual discovery of new sounds,” said Jim Ryun. “For example, coming back from a walk this morning, I heard a drop of water land on a leaf. Those were the sounds that —before wearing Lyric hearing aids — I wouldn’t have heard.”

A track and field silver medalist in the 1968 Olympics, Ryun also set the record as the first high school student to break the four-minute mile (3:59:0), a record that lasted 36 years. In addition to his stellar track career, he has served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for the 2nd Congressional District of Kansas from 1996-2007.

While Ryun has had an impressive career as an athlete and congressman, he was hearing impaired for most it, having lost his hearing around the age of five due to a high fever.

In August, we had the opportunity to sit down with Ryun and his wife, Anne, to talk about living with hearing impairment, the importance of hearing health, how Lyric has improved his life and the important role a hearing care professional provides.

Before being fit with hearing aids, how did you “cover” for not hearing well?

Jim: Two ways, really. When I was in school, I would sit close to someone who took good notes so I could copy them, or I’d try to get close to the front of the room. And depending upon if Anne was there, I would ask, “Anne, what did they say?” She was my hearing aid for so long.

“Jim tolerated being laughed at and being misunderstood, especially by the press. When he was running and doing interviews, there would be a huge room of reporters, and they’re all shouting questions. That was difficult.” — Anne Ryun

Anne: Jim tolerated being laughed at and being misunderstood, especially by the press. When he was running and doing interviews, there would be a huge room of reporters, and they’re all shouting questions. That was difficult.

So, when he didn’t answer or couldn’t cover by picking out a word. He simply was quiet. They misread it as arrogant and aloof.

Anne, what was it like being Jim’s human hearing aid?

Anne: I’m a very impatient person. If I have to be pulled back to be asked what a child said, I don’t want to be bothered. However, what this has taught me is to have patience and to be patient.

It is also a gift to be able to hear what little people are saying and sharing it with Jim. I had to make a choice: Be impatient and frustrated, or be patient and thankful to be helpful and useful for someone.

“The spouse side is so important to understand, because Anne has had to adjust throughout the years. Out of love for your spouse, get a hearing test, because it could take pressure off them.” — Jim Ryun

I’m much more aware of hearing loss today. I notice an older person who might be experiencing hearing difficulties at a restaurant, and I’ll step in to say, “I think she might need for you speak up more loudly or distinctly.”

Jim: The spouse side is so important to understand, because Anne has had to adjust throughout the years. Out of love for your spouse, get a hearing test, because it could take pressure off them.

When you were in your 40s, a friend encouraged you to see an audiologist about your hearing loss. What did he say that sparked you to go?

Jim: The “a-ha” moment for me was that friend was just fit with a hearing aid. Seeing someone who was really helped by an audiologist was a positive experience. That is what really empowers people to go when you have had a good experience so they can, too.

You had visited doctors before the audiologist visit, and they had said really nothing could be done. Why is visiting a trained hearing care professional critical for people with hearing loss?

Anne: About 50 years ago, when we were engaged, my parents sent him to a well-known clinic — we’re talking a quality, skilled ENT — but his report to Jim was that he had nerve damage. It couldn’t be corrected; Jim just had to deal with it.

Jim: A lot of times people will see a doctor, and they have a bad experience so they put their hearing instrument in a drawer. Go to a trained professional to best fit you — that’s a very important part of this discussion.

“…just don’t go buy a hearing aid. You need to know what will make a difference by being tested by a trained hearing care professional. It increases your quality of life!” — Jim

Plus, just don’t go buy a hearing aid. You need to know what will make a difference by being tested by a trained hearing care professional. It increases your quality of life!

Those first few months Jim was fit with his hearing aid, Anne, how would you describe them?

Anne: [laughing] I had to be very careful what I said, because he was going to hear. A key factor in marriage is a sense of humor, and when I realized he was going to be hearing much more, he was going to hear me. [Laughing.] Truthfully, it made me more aware and sensitive to the world around me.

Plus, there was a freedom of not being his human hearing aid. I didn’t have to retrace or go back to relive a conversation. We could live in the moment. I wanted people to like him, and not see him as being aloof or arrogant.

I’ve been pretty much released as his hearing aid. He can stand on his own two feet, which is fantastic for both of us.

What new activities have you tried without worry because of wearing Lyric?

Jim: It’s a continuing expansion of experiences. In my days before hearing assistance with Lyric, I’d wait for a word when a question was asked knowing I wouldn’t hear everything, and that’s how I would respond.

Because I hear so much, everything is so clear. I’m rediscovering words that before I haven’t heard. Might sound odd, but when you are a person who has gone 50-plus years without hearing assistance, you’re learning new words, and you’re learning to pronounce them. To me, that’s a continuing discovery that is exciting.

“Wow, all the things that I’ve missed through the years — missed conversations with children and grandchildren. What they said that was spontaneous and Anne would be my interpreter, my hearing aids. I wished I had done it sooner.” — Jim

That’s why I am an advocate for people to get their hearing tested. You don’t realize how much you’re missing, until like me, you can now hear.

Wow, all the things that I’ve missed through the years — missed conversations with children and grandchildren. What they said that was spontaneous and Anne would be my interpreter, my hearing aids. I wished I had done it sooner.

You have also mentioned that Lyric affords you an element of safety. Would you elaborate?

Jim: When I was wearing my other hearing device before Lyric, I would take them off when I ran or rode a bike because of the wind and sweat.

With Lyric, that’s no problem. In fact, it adds a level of safety. I’m very grateful for that, and it’s another reason to advocate for better hearing. If you’re an active person, you need to be aware of your surroundings. Lyric adds an element of safety that you shouldn’t live without.

Anne, how would you describe Jim now that he’s been a long-time Lyric wearer?

Anne: More involved and interested in other people’s lives — that’s a given. There’s a dimension of caring and truly wanting to help … not just in hearing health. Being involved in people’s lives … serving in Congress was huge. It really encouraged us to look at the whole realm of how we can help people.

How often do you tell people about wearing Lyric?

Jim: Every opportunity that I can. We both talk about it. One of the advantages of Lyric is that you cannot see it. It’s 100% invisible. That is also one of the disadvantage; people cannot see it, so they don’t know you have a great hearing device.

“Life grow dulls when you’re not actively participating in it. How does it feel to live your life 50%? Wouldn’t you like to live 100%? That is my plea to spouses who have hearing loss. I’m here for you and with you. It’s not just you benefiting from a hearing aid.” — Anne

Anne:W e give U.S. Capitol tours. In the Capitol, there are very large rooms. Jim will say, “If you have a question, please ask really loudly. I have a hearing loss and wear hearing aids.” He will make a point that we might not be in the best place for hearing.

What would you tell someone to encourage them to get their hearing checked?

Jim: One of my passions is when I see an older person who can’t hear well, Anne and I both, encourage them to get tested.

One of the stumbling blocks for men is appearance. It’s certainly a pride issue. When I served in Congress, and I would sit through committee hearings, I’d see senior members who would carefully slip in their hearing aids. When it was over, they would carefully slip them out. They didn’t want the seeming stigma of someone seeing them as having to wear a hearing system.

Anne: The stigma with hearing loss is that people assume you’re stupid. People might think, “Oh, their brain might not work.” For family members, it’s not stupidity but a lack of understanding or hearing a word. It brings another depth and dimension to understanding a person.

As people get older and lose their hearing, they start shouting at each other. The result of shouting is to be in an angry situation. It’s not until you think, “I was only asking for the peanut butter,” that you realize you’ve gotten into a shouting match.

Anne, what would you say to a friend who might have a spouse with hearing loss?

Anne: [laugh] I have told her. Basically, this isn’t just “his thing.” It affects the relationship between the couple, children and your circle of friends. So, talk about how we’re in this journey together, and it is not going to divide us.

Many older people are shutting down. They’ll sit there at the big Thanksgiving table, and they’ll just be quiet. They don’t know how to interact.

Life grow dulls when you’re not actively participating in it. How does it feel to live your life 50%? Wouldn’t you like to live 100%? That is my plea to spouses who have hearing loss. I’m here for you and with you. It’s not just you benefiting from a hearing aid.

Jo-El Grossman

Communications & Content Manager

Jo-El Grossman is currently Communications & Content Manager for Phonak U.S. Although she joined the company in October 2017, she brings her skills as an accomplished, creative and qualified marketing and editorial leader with a multi-media background.