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The Daily Wildcat

 

Titus thriving despite silence

Colin Darland / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Outside of the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center pool, UA senior swimmer Marcus Titus can carry on a normal conversation, but when he enters the water, everything is mute.

As he stands on the blocks ready to dive in, he dons the same Speedo and swim cap as his Arizona teammates. But while the others stare at the water waiting for a starting horn to signify the start of the race, Titus stands with his head turned to the side in anticipation for his own starting signal: A strobe light.

The 23-year-old redshirt senior discovered that he was deaf at age 3. But over the course of the next two decades, Titus found the strength, determination and confidence to channel his lack of hearing toward a lengthy and illustrious swimming career.

While most swimmers could never imagine entering the pool without hearing a sound, Titus uses that lack of distraction to his advantage. When he steps on the blocks, he zones in and goes to work.

“”I used my hearing loss as an opportunity for me, because I don’t have to hear the environment, the noises and stuff,”” Titus said with his hearing aid in. “”I don’t use it as an excuse, I use it for an advantage. So I use that to mentally focus.””

Although Titus doesn’t use the conventional starting horn to start the race, he is almost always first off the blocks, and more often than not, the first one to touch the wall.

The fact that Titus is swimming for one of the best programs in the nation is an accomplishment in and of itself. But Titus is mentioned among some of the best breaststrokers in the nation — currently No. 1 in the country in the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 52.21 — a tribute to the type of swimmer and person Titus has become.

“”You don’t come across many people with his situation that compete at the level that the best of the world compete,”” said Arizona swim head coach Frank Busch. “”The people that do that, they’re pretty special. They know that they have a gift and they’ve decided to do the most with that gift, and Marcus has certainly done that.””

Teammates and coaches marvel at Titus’ growth over the course of the past few seasons. That development has resulted in a host of noteworthy accomplishments.

Most recently, Titus was nominated to the U.S. National Team after his work in summer 2009, but he really broke onto the scene in 2008. He was a huge part of Arizona’s 2008 national championship team — placing second in the 100y breaststroke — and earned the opportunity to swim at the 2008 Olympic trials with names like Michael Phelps and Katie Hoff.

But Titus’ success didn’t come instantly.

He attended the Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind in Tucson until he was 10, but his urge to improve his communication skills landed him in the public school system and eventually Flowing Wells High School.

Titus didn’t take up swimming until his freshman year at Flowing Wells, and his passion for the pool wasn’t instant.

“”At first I totally hated (swimming), the training was so hard,”” Titus said. “”But when I had my first race, I totally loved racing; I loved it. That’s what motivated me to keep racing and get better.””

His love for racing earned him All-American honors and a 5A state championship in the 100y breaststroke. But when it came time to commit to a university, Titus’ success in the high school ranks didn’t translate into a scholarship to Arizona, his first choice of schools. 

Titus, who swam in the Ford Aquatics Masters Swimming program at the UA all through high school, was told that Arizona had no room for another breaststroker on the roster.

“”We had a solid core of breaststrokers on our team and we really didn’t have any aid available,”” Busch said. “”That being said, he wanted to go where he was offered a scholarship.””

That scholarship school happened to be ASU, but from day one, Titus was never welcomed as a Sun Devil. The ASU coaching staff refused to employ a full-time interpreter for Titus, which led to a host of problems.

“”To me (having an interpreter) is so important because that way, he’s included in everything,”” Busch said. “”If you don’t have someone sign with him all the time then he doesn’t really have the opportunity to communicate.””

“”It started to cause a lot of problems and the head coach didn’t show much appreciation or respect toward me, so I just had to back off and transfer here,”” Titus added.

Titus transferred back to his roots, was given a full-time interpreter and even noticed his teammates making a conscious effort to learn a little sign language.

Some teammates found it difficult at first; some thought it was a breeze. But now, there is no question whether Titus is part of the team. In fact, he is looked at as a team leader and an inspiration.

“”He’s a big role model to a lot of guys on the team, not just because what he’s done with his disability, but also the amazing athlete that he is and how hard he works and how talented he is,”” said 2008 individual NCAA champion Jean Basson.

Even though he wasn’t able to compete in his first year back due to Pacific 10 Conference transfer rules, Titus found a home with the Wildcats.

“”(At ASU) I had goals for NCAAs, but the coaches there weren’t very supportive, so they kind of didn’t bring my self-esteem up,”” Titus said. “”That’s the reason I came here, the coaches are very open-minded and very, you know, ‘those are your goals, just reach for them.'””

In a matter of months, Titus transformed from a kid struggling to find his way at ASU to a national mainstay in the swimming world, all without hearing a sound.

While Titus is vehement about how massively his coaches and teammates helped him achieve his success, he has certainly returned the favor. Basson said that any time he has a bad day, he thinks of Titus, and almost instantly gains positive reinforcement.

Busch was also adamant about how much he and the team have learned about not only swimming but also life, thanks to Titus. 

“”When you see someone overcome something, they teach you more than you probably teach them, and I think in Marcus’ case it’s done that with us and with the team,”” Busch said.

In the pool, Titus continues to be a cog in what is looking more and more like another national championship team.

Titus is thought to be one of the favorites in the 100y breaststroke this year at NCAAs, but whether Titus takes home the individual title or not, he has forever embedded his name in the history of Arizona swimming.

“”What an awesome young man,”” Busch said. “”He’s really something special. It’s really cool to watch him live his life.””

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