Minnesota Better Hearing Athlete: Rick Schafer

It’s been proven, hearing health is directly connected to your overall health and well-being.  As the Official Hearing Partner of the 2015 National Senior Games presented by Humana, we selected four Minnesota athletes and chronicled their hearing journey. We will feature one athlete each week throughout the month of June. 

Rick Schafer, 61, plays both pitcher and first base for his senior softball team the Minnesota Blizzard. “I feel I play both positions well, so it just depends on what the team needs,” he said. “I’ve had tournaments where I only pitch and tournaments where I play first base. It just depends on what is needed.” 

Schafer got into softball in the first grade, and despite a break to play baseball in high school, he has continued to play ever since. Softball is year round for Schafer, playing in dome tournaments during the winter. He plays competitively with his senior team and for enjoyment on his family team with his sons.  “I play “kid ball” with my kids to stay in shape for senior ball,” he joked. In 2003, Schafer and his three sons, Joel, Jeff and James, were able to play summer ball, coached by his wife, Lynn, and fall ball together on the same team, for the first time. Schafer said it is one of his favorite memories, one he hopes to someday repeat with his four grandsons.

“It’s eight more years away,” he said, “but we are slowly building our softball team.”

But, senior ball is no joke for Schafer. Last year, the MN Blizzard team won a tournament in Kansas City that qualified them to play in this year’s Tournament of Champions in Florida; where they had played into the 3rd day of the 3 day tournament.  Schafer said that the Blizzard is pretty competitive in tournaments across the country. This July will be the first National Senior Games that Schafer will have competed in.

“I just feel very blessed to be able to play, especially after last year,” he said. “I had major rotator cuff surgery in January…tore all three of the muscles, and the doctors didn’t think I’d play until, maybe, August.  He was also told that he shouldn’t expect to be able to raise his arm above his head.” Fortunately, Schafer recovered quickly and was back playing with full range of motion by May 28.

Schafer did not experience hearing difficulties while playing softball, but said he had difficulties hearing and understanding speech while in crowds and at church. He said it is often difficult to have a conversation with a lot of crowd noise because it’s just very distracting and hard to concentrate. “A lot of times when I hear something in a conversation, I still have to take the time to process it to make sure I understood it right,” Schafer said. “If I’m talking to someone close by it’s easier to understand, but if that person is sitting across the room I can hear them but I can’t understand what’s being said.” 

Part of why Schafer has difficulty understanding conversation is that his hearing loss, while mild, mostly involves a loss of lower frequency sounds. To help improve his conversational abilities and amplify those lower frequency sounds, Schafer was fit with invisible-in-the-canal (IIC) SoundLens 2 hearing aids.   

After only a week using his new SoundLens 2, Schafer noticed immediate improvements to his lifestyle. He said his new hearing aids have allowed him to hear conversations in normal speaking tones at work and at a local prison where he volunteers. While watching TV, he said he has turned the volume down to half of what it was before, and he and his wife have noticed less “huhs?” are being exchanged.  Additionally, phone conversations are easier, higher frequency sounds are crisper and louder and there is no wind interference in his hearing aids while driving with the windows down.

Watch Schafer and the Minnesota Blizzard compete July 4-6 at the National Senior Games.

By Sarah Bricker