Glenwood High alum Graci Dietrich achieves her ‘why,’ makes USA Women’s Deaf Basketball Team
Adapting has always been the name of the game for former Glenwood Springs High School basketball standout Graci Dietrich.
As a deaf athlete, she forged a special bond with her teammates going back to her days playing ball at Glenwood Middle School and through her years as a GSHS Demon.
Even with a solid support structure, though, including having accommodating friends and teachers, and a sign-language interpreter with her at most times, it was never easy, she readily admits.
But a new opportunity to take her game to the world stage as a member of the USA Women’s Deaf Basketball Team is a dream come true.
“Growing up and always being the outcast on a team because of being hard of hearing and having an interpreter wasn’t the easiest to navigate, and so to now be on a team where I will not be alone with that is just surreal,” said Dietrich, now a sophomore at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in New York and a member of the Lady Tigers basketball team.
The 2021 GSHS graduate was recruited this fall to try out for Team USA, and a last-minute weekend trip to Washington, D.C. to try out was successful.
“I had made it a goal of mine to strive for being on the team. It was my motivation growing up as a basketball player,” Dietrich said.
“Having this opportunity being ‘my why’ for years and years and to now have made it means the world. I was meant to be there and thank God for this opportunity every day.”
Dietrich will start training with the national team in May, in advance of the World Deaf Basketball Championships to be played in Heraklion, Greece June 13-24, 2023.
“I am ecstatic to not only play basketball with this team but to play overseas in a gorgeous country,” Dietrich said. “I have never been there and have been looking forward to the scenery and meals I’ll be eating.
“I will definitely be jamming out to the Mamma Mia soundtracks before getting there to get me inspired for this trip,” she said in reference to the movie series, which takes place on a fictional island in Greece.
If she is able to remain on the team, Dietrich would also have an opportunity to play in the 2025 Summer Deaflympics in Japan.
The Demons had successful runs in Dietrich’s junior and senior years at GSHS, including 4A State Championship Sweet 16 appearances both of those years and an undefeated 4A Western Slope League season her junior season.
She especially looks fondly back at her senior year at GSHS when she was the team co-captain and was charged with helping her teammates endure the season playing under COVID protocols, with mask requirements, limited fan capacity and a shortened schedule.
“I was so proud of how we navigated the mess of COVID and all the protocols,” Dietrich said.
Afterwards, she knew she had more to accomplish on the court beyond her high school years. She tried out for the team at RIT and was accepted.
An injury in her freshman year limited her playing time, but she did manage to get in the scorebook with a pair of rebounds and her first career points through four games of action.
“I came back ready and was excited to have another season at RIT with some of the coolest people I have met on the team,” she said of this season. “The team is close with one another and composed of a bunch of driven, intelligent ladies. It has been a cool experience witnessing the culture here.”
“We have a lot of unique people from all over, which makes us versatile and each player brings their own talents to the table. I also love how close we are off the court and outside of the basketball world.”
College ball is a major step up from high school preps, though, with year-round schedules, intensive shooting drills, weight lifting, pickups and meetings, she said.
“You definitely have to be disciplined as a collegiate athlete,” Dietrich said of the challenges juggling a full academic schedule and athletics. She’s majoring in nutritional science, and hopes to be a health coach down the road.
Prepping for the global game
Dietrich said her college experience so far has prepared her for the rigors of playing on the national team and traveling overseas.
But what she is most looking forward to is the opportunity to join players like herself on the court.
The team uses American Sign Language to communicate, and in a lot of ways is better able to rely on instinct and basketball IQ to make plays and be effective on the court, she said.
“It’s really beautiful to witness how it is done,” she said.
Dietrich took the opportunity to thank everyone who donated resources to help her realize her dream of playing on the national deaf team.
“I also credit my high school interpreter and one of my best friends, Kyle Larson,” she said of her personal interpreter growing up in Glenwood Springs, who is now an interpreter in the Eagle County Schools.
“He has given me so much knowledge and has guided me through so much growing up,” Dietrich said. “Even now as I’m in New York I reach out to him and he always knows what to say.”
She also thanks her family, mother Jodi, father Chris and her siblings.
“They sacrificed a lot for me as an athlete growing up and I will forever be thankful for them,” she said.
Post Independent interim Managing Editor and senior reporter John Stroud can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 970-384-9160.
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