Zara Musker: 'I want to be the person I needed when I was younger’
Zara Musker talks us through her journey from playing alongside the likes of Keira Walsh as a child to becoming an England Deaf Women Futsal star
To be honest, I found playing for England difficult initially.
I'm from a hearing family and I'm the only deaf person in my family, so growing up, I didn't know anyone deaf until I came to an England Deaf futsal camp as a 13-year-old.
It had taken me quite a while to come to a camp because when you're playing in the academies and in mainstream football, you don't really realise that there's anyone different.
Growing up, you didn't want to be different. You just wanted to be the same as everyone else. So it was really hard for me to come to England because everyone was signing and I was the odd one out.
I guess coming into an England camp I felt like how the other players maybe felt when they were in the hearing world. There, they would be the odd one out, whereas with England, I was the odd one out.
So starting to play for England Deaf women’s futsal team as a 13-year-old, I really, really struggled with that.
But I persisted, continued to play futsal every time I came to an England camp and when I went to Bulgaria for the European Championships in 2015, it changed my life. I'm just so thankful that I kept doing it.
I first started playing football around the age of four or five years old, just out on the field with my brothers. I come from a footballing background, so there was always a football everywhere we went.
I grew up in Blackburn in an area called the Ribble Valley. It was a safe area so we would all be out there playing on the grass. There'd be about 20 lads from the estate and then me!
Accrington Stanley was the first team I played for when I was about seven years old and then I went on to Burnley when I was eight.
At around the age of 11, I joined Blackburn Rovers’ centre of excellence and stayed there until the under-17s before moving on to the development squad for WSL side Everton.
I was then given a full-ride scholarship to America but unfortunately, I picked up quite a serious injury which led to me being out for about a year and a half.
When I returned to England, it was on the cusp of whether money was going to go into female football or not so I had to make the decision as to whether to pursue a career or put my heart and soul into football.
I felt like I'd put so many years into football that I wasn't sure whether or not it would pay off in the end, so I took a bit of a break from football and concentrated on futsal a lot more, which is more the deaf female pathway.
As I mentioned, I started playing for England Deaf Women when I was 13 years old. It has always been a women's team so it can be players of any age but you can't go into tournaments until you're 16.
When I stepped onto the court at 13, I had never played futsal in my life, I didn't even know what it was. I just thought it was five-a-side and then found out there were loads of rules! So that was an experience for a couple of years!
I didn't really like futsal at the start and was still playing a lot of 11-a-side so I was more just doing futsal to keep me ticking over.
But then I went to Bulgaria in 2015 and we won bronze at the European Championships, which is a massive achievement. It wasn't what we wanted, because we went for gold and we should have got gold, so it was kind of a bittersweet tournament for me.
But from then on I was like ‘wow, this is this is the best thing I've ever done. I'm putting an England shirt on, I'm representing my country, I'm travelling the world’.
Since then, I've been to Thailand, I've been to Portugal, I've been to Bulgaria, I've been to Norway, I’ve been to Spain and now I’m heading to Brazil for the World Deaf Futsal Championships later in November!
Alongside playing for Manchester Futsal, I still play 11-a-side grassroots football with my friends just to keep my fitness up at Clitheroe Wolves back home and also Salford.
It’s fair to say that my hearing journey is a little bit separate from my football journey. There's a bit of a running joke in the England team that I make my own signs up but it works. But I have learnt massively, and I've come on leaps and bounds. My signing is much better, but that comes with accepting that I've got a disability and accepting that I'm deaf.
It was really, really hard for me in my teens and early 20s to accept that I did have a hearing loss.
Then I fully lost my hearing in 2020 during the pandemic.
I may have fully lost my hearing three years ago but it's still very much in the forefront of my mind.
No one knows why I lost my hearing in 2020 and I guess we’ll never know. But I didn't leave the house for six months because it was the pandemic, everyone was wearing masks, and I was trying to process what was such a traumatic event that had happened to me.
It was very challenging, to be honest, but within six months I had the cochlear implant and it wasn't a case of will this work or not, it was a case of this is going to work and I'm going to make it work.
Without this implant, I wouldn't be standing here today. Without the implant, I wouldn’t be able to work full time, without the implant I wouldn't have my flat and without the implant, I wouldn't have my car because my life was in the hearing world – my degree, everything. So standing here today, my implant has saved my life.
It's led me to change my career so I'm now training to be an audiologist, working in and around deaf individuals and trying to empower and inspire them to believe they can do whatever they want.
I didn’t really have those deaf role models growing up and it is the main reason why I always say to people ‘be the person that you needed when you were younger’.
Every time I go somewhere or I see someone with a disability or is deaf, I think ‘I want to be the person that I wanted when I was younger’.
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