You are only 12 months old. You can see mouths moving but you hear nothing.
It isn’t unusual living in a world without sound, because you’ve never heard a noise before.
You are diagnosed with profound deafness.
One day a cochlear implant becomes an extension of your body. And with a flick of a switch your whole world changes.
This is how Sam McLarty came to hear for the very first time – a normality most people are born with.
“That exact moment in time was the first time I ever heard anything,” he said. “It’s quite incredible really, to make someone – who cannot hear a thing at all – to be able to hear.”
Over the years, McLarty learnt to embrace his deafness.
“I am profoundly deaf. That is something that right now as a grown man I own. It’s part of my identity, it’s who I am, and I’ll never run away from that.”
But this wasn’t always the case for the 20-year-old. Growing up deaf, McLarty felt he needed to prove to his peers that he was more than capable of achieving all the tasks a person with hearing could accomplish.
“When I was younger I was at odds with that sort of realisation that I’m deaf, and that I'm different,” he said.
“I wanted to prove to everyone that as a deaf person, I can do everything that everyone else can do. For me, picking up football was just part of that. I just wanted to play football to prove that I can be just like everyone else. Sure enough, I fell in love with the game and I was the kid that watched seven games every week and I couldn't get enough of it. I simply couldn't.”
McLarty’sbionic eardoesn’t affect his capabilities as a human being or a sportsman. And it doesn’t stop him from doing what he loves most – playing AFL.
The 2015 season saw McLarty come onto the scene as an athletic key defender for the Oakleigh Chargers as they stormed towards the TAC Cup premiership.
The following year, McLarty spent time in both defence and attack for the Chargers and his school Yarra Valley Grammar. A Vic Metro representative at the 2016 NAB AFL Under 18 Championship, McLarty was selected by Collingwood with pick 30 at the 2016 NAB AFL Draft.
With Collingwood’s need for tall support, McLarty provides a versatile option at either end of the ground for the Magpies.
Fulfilling his lifelong dream of playing at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, he always visualised making it to the top level in footy and never thought deafness would prevent him from getting there.
“Now I’m not only Sam the deaf guy, I’m Sam the deaf guy who plays footy. That’s who I am and that’s who I'll be for the rest of my life, and I'm very comfortable with that.”
He hopes his journey will inspire other ambitious athletes to push their limits and reach new heights.
“If I can inspire a young kid to be better, if I can allow someone to actually believe they can be more than what they are, then to me that is a job well done,” McLarty said.
“To me, that's incredibly humbling and that's something that I'll cherish. That's something I'll celebrate. I think that's something the world should celebrate. People achieving – it's incredible.”