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For Ziola, 'no' is not an option
Jenny Gierhan
Antelope Staff
Jody Ziola

Losing hearing did not stop her from  excelling at music; gaining it back  has given her new appreciation



There will always be a few people that stand out, who send out an “aura” or a quality that forces you to stop dead in your tracks and pay attention.


Jody Ziola, a senior music education major from Archer, is one of those individuals. 


Founder. Leader. Wife.


She was almost deaf, but can now hear better than ever. Her story is nothing short of inspiring. 


One of her mentors says Ziola, like any motivated student, pushed herself to learn while disregarding excuses and obstacles. 


“Jody hasn’t progressed as a musician and teacher ‘in spite of’ her hearing issues, but has learned important lessons and developed useful skills simply because she had no other choice than to do so if she wanted to excel,” said Dr. Seth Fletcher, lecturer in low brass. 


Ziola grew up in Archer, population 36, where the saying goes, “there are more dogs than people.” As a baby she suffered from high fevers, resulting in massive nerve damage in her ears. 


“As I got older, hereditary hearing loss prevalent on my mom’s side kicked in,” Ziola said. Her family had noticed the hearing loss happening earlier each generation. A lack of resources forced Ziola to live her life hearing differently until the age of 17. 


“I grew up feeling music as vibrations. In fifth grade I was Mr. Ummel’s first chair trumpet, but he knew that it would eventually frustrate me,” Ziola said. “You can’t feel the difference between notes in the higher ranges.” 


Fully aware that Ziola could not accept “can’t” as part of her vocabulary, Ummel told her he had heard girls couldn’t play the tuba. 


“He knew if he used logic to explain why I would be more successful at the tuba, I would show him where to stick that idea and continue trying.


Tell me I can’t, and I’ll show you I can. The tuba is a much better match because I feel the vibrations on my body,” Ziola said. 


Ziola graduated from Central City High School and remembers her time in high school as a waste other than in music. 


“I really shouldn’t have been admitted into UNK. My high school GPA was too low for the requirements, but something allowed me to come here,” Ziola said. “I got hooked up with Disability Services when I was a freshman at UNK, and they were able to get me the resources I needed to

succeed in the classroom. My first semester GPA was a 3.7— and a personal best.”


Disability Services offers support and information to those who have documented disabling conditions as described by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Ziola’s accommodations ensured a spot in the front row of the classroom. She needed to see the professor’s lips

moving in order to hear and learn. 


“Most all of the professors I had at UNK were very understanding, and I didn’t really need the documentation until one occasion. If you are a person out there with a disability, be a self-advocate like me and don’t be afraid to just talk with your professors,” Ziola said. 


Throughout her six years at UNK, Ziola has also acquired a lengthy list of leadership roles. She founded the International Tuba Euphonium Association in 2009 and has been the president since. During her time with the UNK Marching Band, she was tuba section leader for five years,

uniform leader for three years and she filled the newest position, as medic, for one year. 


Yes, you read that correctly. No one has ever seen the dangerous side of marching band. “I don’t know what these kids were doing, but every other week one of them was coming up to me, bleeding or broken,” she said. "I would literally walk up to the emergency room window and the

secretaries would ask ‘What did the band do now?’” 


Ziola often suffered from ear infections. When she was a sophomore, she was devastated when told she would become completely deaf by age 30. Turning to her band family, she walked into Dr. Neal Schnoor’s office sobbing. Schnoor’s reply, “So?” took her by surprise. 


“He was right. The only thing that holds people back is their mind,” she said. Schnoor’s confidence in her and his continuing guidance and support helped to keep her going. 


“He checked in on me about every week to make sure I still believed in myself,” Ziola said. “I would always say, ‘I think I can do this!’” 


Two and a half years ago, when Ziola saw a different doctor for her constant ear infections, he found something that no one had ever noticed. There was a hole in the left eardrum that could be surgically fixed.


“When he said he could lessen the number of my ear infections and possibly restore my hearing, I was excited. I had no idea this would ever be an option,” Ziola said. 


The doctor performed a tympanoplasty, a surgery to replace the eardrum. He took a graft of “silver skin” from behind Ziola’s left ear where her glasses rest.  He went in through her ear canal and adjusted the bones in the middle ear and put the skin graft over her eardrum to replace the



He packed this with chemical packs and then widened Ziola’s ear canals.


“I tried not to set my hopes too high. I would have been happy if it did nothing but axe the ringing in my ear.”


After the surgery, Ziola couldn’t handle sounds. She woke up frequently hearing strange noises. “One time I remember being afraid and asking my husband David what was happening. He said, ‘Jody, that’s a train.’” The couple lives only a few blocks from the railroad tracks, and she

had never heard a train whistle, let alone the clacking and rumbling sounds trains make. 


Ziola says her ability to hear has helped her understand music on a whole new level. A whole new world has emerged. 


“I remember hearing children sing at a concert for the first time. I was in complete awe. There were pitches and tone— and more importantly, something I’d never heard before— depth,” Ziola said. 


Students shouldn’t give up on their dreams, she says. “It’s not necessarily that ‘A’ in a class that makes college worthwhile. It’s organizations and getting involved in anything you are passionate about. If you stay focused on the big picture, the little picture will fall into place.”


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