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INDIANAPOLIS – Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders have a different view this year, watching games from the stands rather than the sidelines.

Many continue their work away from the horseshoe, including one who was inspired by a young Colts fan who is deaf.

Vanessa is a four-year Colts cheer veteran who is no stranger to connecting with fans at games and events. But it was a young fan at training camp in 2019 who moved Vanessa to go back to school to learn American Sign Language, ASL.

“This little girl had come up, and I could tell right away that she couldn’t hear us and that she was deaf,” Vanessa recalled. “Her father was signing to her.”

Vanessa took ASL as a student at Indiana University, and found the words to sign instead of say.

“I did manage to remember how to say ‘hi,’ ask her what her name was and that it was nice to meet her, and she just started glowing,” Vanessa said.

After that encounter, with the help of the Colts Cheer Professional Development Program, Vanessa went back to school to fully learn sign language and connect with those fans.

“The Colts community is one of the coolest that I have been a part of, and I love that we’re always encouraging each other and supporting each other, and I feel like we weren’t connecting necessarily with deaf fans,” Vanessa said. “They are just as big of Colts fans as hearing fans, and I want them to feel included.”

COVID-19 means deaf fans have fewer ways to communicate since masks make reading lips impossible. 

“I am here for a reason, and it is to bring our community together,” Vanessa said.