12:48 PM

Cochlear Implants Help Transform Track Standout’s Life

By Eric Breier

Ripley Brant knows it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie. Perhaps that’s fitting for someone named after the protagonist of the “Alien” films. 

Sure, Brant prefers a good pair of headphones because it sounds better, but it’s not unusual for him to take phone calls or listen to music and have it play directly in his head. 

“The sound is basically going straight into my brain,” Brant said. “I think about it, and it trips me out. I get a mini existential crisis. It’s like, ‘How does this work?’ ” 

The technology may be complex, but it’s something that occurs through Brant’s cochlear implants, which were surgically embedded about eight years ago to help him hear. He’s used to telling the story. It’s something he often does when he meets a new group of people. It’s one of the first things he did when he moved into North Commons to begin his freshman year at Cal State San Marcos last August. And it’s something his teammates on the Cougars track and field team know. 

Brant was born with what he describes as mild to profound hearing loss. In his case, it was difficult to hear high frequency sounds. Some sounds, like “sh,” he couldn’t pick up at all. 

But Brant learned at a young age to decipher clues in his communications with others, and his lip-reading skills are excellent. He was so adept at it that, despite some speech issues, no one realized the extent of his hearing loss until he had a routine hearing test when he was 5. The results helped explain the speech challenges and the frustration he sometimes showed when he couldn’t convey what he wanted or people couldn’t understand him. 

“When you're younger, elementary school kids can be borderline evil,” Brant said. “I would get made fun of for the way I would speak or how I would say certain things, because I definitely have a unique voice.” 

Those difficulties led Brant to find one of his passions. Reading was among his escapes from the taunts of classmates (it remains a passion and is one of the reasons why he chose to major in literature and writing studies at CSUSM). 

Brant wore hearing aids for about five years, but when he was 10, his family explored cochlear implant surgery. He underwent two separate procedures, one for each ear, in which an electronic device was implanted in his head. The cochlear implant bypasses the damaged areas of the ear and delivers sound to the auditory nerve. Brant then wears external transmitters that are magnetized to attach to the side of his head. The external devices are covered by Brant’s hair, making it virtually imperceptible until he removes one to show somebody. 

The cochlear implants led to improved hearing and speech, but came with a trade-off – he’s now completely deaf if he’s not wearing the external unit. 

“It was worth it,” Brant said. “I have much clearer audio hearing everything.” 

Post-surgeries, Brant needed several weeks of recovery before “activation day,” the moment when his audiologist enabled him to hear through the cochlear implants. 

“It doesn't sound completely normal right away,” Brant said. “I just remember everyone sounding like Mickey Mouse for probably that first day. But it was still really cool to have that set up. I remember just smiling a whole bunch.” 

While the hearing aids Brant wore in his early elementary school days amplified the hearing that he had at the time, the cochlear implants were a vast improvement. 

And with improved hearing and speech came added self-assurance. The difficulties Brant endured in elementary and middle school gave way to increased confidence when it came to making friends and socializing in high school. That included competing in sports. 

In an era of sports specialization, Brant was a three-sport standout at San Diego High School on the baseball, basketball, and track and field teams. 

“As I got to high school, I started talking to more people,” Brant said. “I was still very nervous, but I started to gain a little more confidence. And then I was like, ‘Oh, I can make friends. I can do this.’ ” 

When the pandemic hit, Brant found himself focusing more on track and field. One of the reasons he chose CSUSM was for the opportunity to compete on the track and field team in the high jump, long jump and triple jump. And, already, he is making an impact. 

“The thing that stands out most about Ripley is his attitude and consistency,” said Torrey Olson, CSUSM’s head track and field coach. “He is always attentive, focused and positive in an era where these qualities are tough to come by.” 

Media Contact

Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist

ebreier@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7314