Hear and Now
by David E. Nathan
Please excuse Nikki Cote ’15 if a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the seventh inning of a close game doesn’t seem that daunting. After all, the hard-throwing pitcher has already overcome far more difficult challenges than the tense situations on a softball field.
As a toddler growing up in Southern California, Cote suffered a series of ear infections that irreparably damaged her eardrums. Built-up scar tissue limited her hearing, which led to profound speech delays. The family moved to Connecticut when she was 4 years old, and doctors at Yale-New Haven Hospital installed ear tubes. After she was fitted for high-tech hearing aids and began working with an audiologist, her hearing partially returned.
Even so, a pediatrician, aware of the developmental delays the hearing problems had caused, suggested that Cote go to a school for the deaf. Elementary-school educators told her parents she would never read beyond the fourth-grade level.
But with her mother, Cheryl, advocating for her, Cote stayed in regular classes. Through the help of hearing specialists, she ultimately flourished in the classroom.
“Everything I went through built me as a person,” Cote says today. “All through my life I have had to fight to achieve. I have learned that, with tenacity, you can overcome anything.”
Cote has met with great success on the softball field, thanks to the tutelage of her father, Dave, the pitching coach for the University of Bridgeport softball team. She started playing the sport at age 5 and became a pitcher at 12.
Despite an impressive repertoire of pitches — a 60 mph two-seam fastball, a four-seamer, a curveball and a change-up — Cote did not get the opportunity to pitch for her high-school team until she was a junior. That year, she led the St. Joseph Cadets to the Connecticut Class M title by quelling a two-on, one-out rally in the fifth inning of the championship game against Lauralton Hall.
“I enjoy pitching, being in the spotlight and having the pressure on me to perform,” Cote says.
After an injury-plagued freshman season at Brandeis, Cote helped Coach Jessica Johnson’s Judges to a 3-0 start in 2013 by earning a win and a save — and slugging a homer — in a doubleheader sweep of Castleton (Vt.) State and an extra-innings triumph against Union. In 12 innings, the 5-foot-3 right-hander from Shelton, Conn., struck out 14 batters.
She has quickly adapted to college life. She uses a portable FM-system device to hear lectures. The only difficulty has been the weather: Her hearing aids are not waterproof, so she can’t pitch in the rain.
“I love it at Brandeis,” she says. “Everyone has been wonderful. It’s as if I walked in and had a whole family right away.”
Cote eagerly shares her inspirational story with others facing similar problems. She worked for two years at a children’s camp, where one of the youngsters in her group was hearing-impaired.
“She was just starting to talk and wasn’t comfortable wearing her hearing aids,” Cote recalls. “I showed her mine and taught her how to use them. She was so happy.”
In other words, Cote hit a home run.