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Deaf UNC student, trainer speaks with his smile

MIKE PETERS
The Daily Tribune
Joshua Ledbetter laughs with interpertuer Sara McHattie while at a program called Fat Assassins, which is similiar to the Biggest Loser, at the Conditioning Spa in Greeley, Colo. on Friday April 16, 2010. (AP Photo/The Daily Tribune, Greeley, Colo., Jim Rydbom)
AP | The Greeley Tribune

GREELEY, Colo. – It’s silent in his world. Soundless.

Some people might not be able to handle that. But they aren’t Joshua Ledbetter.

He’s used to it. Don’t try to tell him it’s a handicap or an “impairment,” or that there’s something wrong with him. He’ll tell you it’s just something you live with.



Ledbetter is 23, a senior at the University of Northern Colorado, and right now, he’s doing an internship at the Conditioning Spa in Greeley. And for many of his physical fitness clients, he’s been an inspiration.

“He’s the type of person who says ‘hello’ with his smile,” said Betti Seay of Greeley. “He’s a wonderful person to work with.”



Ledbetter is sometimes accompanied by a translator, who reads his signing. But many times, he’s alone with a client, or a class, and still communicates.

“When you’re born different from other people,” Ledbetter says through interpreter Sara McHattie, “you have an instinct to adapt. I don’t see it as an impairment. It’s just a sense that is missing.”

Ledbetter has proven that he can handle his “missing sense.”



“He began motocross racing at 12, and turned professional at 15. “I still race some,” he says, “but I’m getting a little old for that now.”

“He graduated from Palmer High School in Colorado Springs with a 4.0 grade-point average, received a National Honor Society medal and earned a full-ride scholarship to UNC.

“He works out seven to 13 times a week and will be entering the National Physique Committee bodybuilding championships. He performs in that contest because it features all-natural bodybuilding without drugs.

Although he’ll soon be finishing his internship and graduate, he hopes to keep a job with the Conditioning Spa.

Spa co-owner Tim Balzer said he wants to keep Ledbetter in the spa as a trainer, “because people love Josh. He’s been able to communicate without an interpreter and lead classes and personal training. We’re very happy with him.”

Ledbetter said he owes much of his enthusiasm and happiness in life to his parents, who live northeast of Colorado Springs in Peyton and are both hospital nurses.

“They wanted me to go to public school and not a special school,” Ledbetter said. “Now I’m really glad they did because it taught me to fit in.”

He can communicate without an interpreter by signals, texting, on his computer and reading lips.

But he also knows people may feel uncomfortable trying to communicate with him.

“For some people, it’s like they’re in another country and they don’t speak the language,” he said. “I try to help them out with that.”

He graduated from high school thinking about an accounting degree. “Then I looked at UNC and wanted to get into physical education and teach … and then I realized I really wanted to help people achieve their goals,” he said.

And he’s doing that, through nutrition and fitness and training.

And showing people that your life doesn’t have to be controlled by silence.


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