Good Vibrations

“Good Vibrations,” New Era, Oct. 1993, 28

Good Vibrations

Positive vibes fill Shellee’s silent world with something to cheer about.

It seemed like any other early school morning for the Pleasant Grove (Utah) High School security guard, until he noticed a group of boys crowded around a small car in the student parking lot. It looked awfully suspicious. They must be trying to break in, he thought. But as he neared the scene to investigate, he recognized the boys and knew they were good guys, even though they were searching for a way to break into the empty car. The owner of the car had left the radio blaring, and the boys were trying to get in to turn it off.

Why did these popular guys take the time to rescue the little car? That Volkswagen belonged to 17-year-old Shellee Lundgren, a varsity stunt cheerleader.

Why had she left her radio on? Wouldn’t the loud music have been too much to overlook? Not for Shellee—she’s deaf. But even so, sometimes she likes to feel the vibrations of the music on the radio.

It may not be common for a cheerleader to be deaf, but with hard work and the support of others, Shellee is able to accomplish most everything she wants to. And even though Shellee’s hearing loss is not typical of most teenagers, she sure is. Without talking to her, you’d never even guess she has a hearing disability. She’s usually with friends or talking on the phone, she dates, and her long hair covers the hearing aid she wears behind her left ear. She reads lips, so she can usually understand you, but it can be hard to understand her until you get used to the way she talks. But what strikes you most about her is that she hasn’t let her hearing problem slow her down. She’s outgoing and not afraid to try whatever she wants to do. Her philosophy is “Never say I can’t.”

Shellee wanted to dance, so in grade school she started dance and gymnastics classes. She has been competing and performing ever since. Someone signals Shellee when to begin, and then she counts through the rest of the piece. As a child, oftentimes she was more on beat than the rest of the children because she counted. “Most judges never even know I’m deaf,” she says.

Because Shellee is always trying, people are drawn to her. For example, in ninth grade Shellee wanted to be a cheerleader. When it came time for tryout practices, she went but struggled trying to understand all the instructions. Luckily, her bubbly personality and eagerness to learn won her the admiration of the other girls and one varsity cheerleader in particular.

Michelle Shoell, then a junior, took Shellee home with her every night that week to practice with her. Shellee could do the moves; she just needed help combining the moves with the words. “She is one of the most sparkling people I’ve ever met,” Michelle says, “and I wanted to see her make it.”

Before the final tryouts, Michelle even told the coach, “I don’t really care if I make it as long as Shellee does.” Both girls made the squad.

In no way is this kindness towards Shellee a one-way street. Shellee makes it easy to become her friend. Melissa Despain, a former fellow cheerleader, says when she first met Shellee she was afraid they wouldn’t be able to communicate. “But she was really nice about it,” she says. Shellee is more than willing to talk slower, repeat herself, and she always smiles to encourage you to continue trying.

Raychellene Jasper, Shellee’s best friend and fellow cheerleader, can hear, and the two have been known to be inseparable. Raychellene helps Shellee understand all the instructions at their practices. Raychellene says, “She makes me feel unique and special and like I’m needed and wanted. It’s a mutual dependency.”

Shellee is a friend as well as an example. “A lot of people didn’t think I could make the cheerleading team,” Shellee says. But when she did, some kids took it to heart. They thought, If she did it, maybe I could too.

It may seem like Shellee’s got it made. Being deaf hasn’t kept her from dancing, doing well in school, or making friends. However, it has made the gospel harder for her to understand than it is for most teenagers.

Only in the last year has Shellee attended a deaf ward, so until then she had to fend for herself at church. “I never knew how much she was actually getting,” says Janell Frost, one of Shellee’s Primary and Young Women teachers.

Fortunately, Pleasant Grove High School has a deaf seminary teacher whose class Shellee can attend. “Seminary has helped me a lot,” she says. “For example, I didn’t know I would live again after I die. I was so happy because then I knew I would see Grandma again.” Shellee hadn’t been able to grasp that concept until then, although she has always been an active member of the Church.

Reading the scriptures is hard for Shellee because of the vocabulary. She doesn’t recognize words from having heard them in conversation; she has to learn each word individually by looking it up. Words like nevertheless are hard enough to understand when you’ve heard other people use them. How is a deaf person to understand it without help?

Shellee’s seminary teacher is helping to solve this problem with drawings. She has her students draw pictures in their scriptures that go along with the stories so they can have a better idea of what is going on. “It helps a lot,” Shellee says.

In part, Shellee wants to go on a mission because she has had a difficult time understanding the gospel principles. “I want to go on a deaf mission so I can learn more. I want to help those who are lost.”

Whether they are obvious or not, we all have our barriers to overcome—even smart, outgoing, cheerleaders who accidentally leave their radios blaring. But when we work together and keep on trying, those barriers come crumbling down.

Photography by Jed Clark and Melanie Shumway

Someone signals when to begin and from there Shellee counts, coordinating each move with a number. That’s how she stays in sync with her fellow cheerleaders.

Shellee’s hearing problem has never kept her down. The support of her father, mother, and brothers is a big factor in her success.

Learning the gospel has been difficult for Shellee, but with the help of her seminary teacher, her friends, and the written word of God, she has a testimony as strong as her will.