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South Valley Riverton Journal

Live in Real Life: Entrepreneur Justin Osmond overcomes hearing loss

Mar 08, 2023 03:46PM ● By Dylan Wilcox

Justin Osmond was diagnosed with hearing loss at age 2. (Photo courtesy Brook Bowen/Riverton City)

Community members and invited guests filled the Riverton High School auditorium to hear from author and business entrepreneur Justin Osmond, who was the keynote speaker for Riverton City’s Live in Real Life series.

Opening for Osmond’s address was local rock band, Strawberry Fields, which played renditions of the Beatles hit songs like “I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends.” The Riverton High School Madrigals accompanied the band. Following their performance, Miss Riverton 2022, Lily Snow, sang and performed in American Sign Language a song entitled “One Perfect Moment.”

Mayor Trent Staggs introduced Osmond before he addressed the crowd. Staggs was impressed when he met Osmond at an event in Bluffdale. “Justin is an incredible person. When I first met him, I knew we needed to get him here in Riverton, and I am glad he accepted the invitation,” Staggs said.

Osmond began his address asking those in attendance if they ever “felt like a postage stamp.” Likening the journey of a postage stamp that goes to different points until it makes its destination to life, “you can make it to the right place if you stick to it,” Osmond said.

“Imagine your life without sound,” he said to audience members. Speaking inaudibly for a moment, Osmond began to explain that he lived in a world of complete silence for years. He felt “lost” and “disconnected” from his family and friends who seemed to be able to communicate effortlessly. He often felt confused due to his hearing loss, diagnosed at the age of 2.

As he grew older, technology allowed Osmond to gain some ability to hear. One such tool that was piloted in the 1980s was a wearable hearing aid, which allows the user to hang the cassette tape player-like device around their neck while having earphones plugged in their ears to amplify sound. Such technology enabled Osmond to hear his family and his favorite sound, the flushing of a toilet. “With the gift of hearing, I felt connected with the world around me,” he said.

Despite being able to gain hearing through hearing aids, Osmond was self-conscious of his “deaf accent,” which he was bullied for by his peers in high school. He was “socially embarrassed.” He recalled a story where his teacher wore a device that helped him to hear. When the teacher left the room, she left the device on, and he could overhear her conversations, which made him an instant hit with his peers. They thought he had superpowers. Instances like these helped Osmond to change his view of himself.

Describing his deaf accent as “my brand, my life, my logo, who I am,”Osmond encouraged the audience to be happy for who they are. As a son of Merrill Osmond, the lead singer of The Osmonds, Justin felt detached from his family that was famous for music, something he couldn’t fully enjoy, having been born with acute hearing loss. Trying to connect with his family was one of the “biggest mountains I ever had to climb” because of the depression and despair he experienced, not being able to sing or play a musical instrument.

“I believe we do not overcome hopelessness by removing the obstacles in our lives,” Osmond said. He explained that even though some might see his hearing loss as being a deterrent to connecting with his musically gifted family, his weakness could eventually become a strength, or in his words, “Don’t let your challenges define you, let them refine you.”

Osmond shared three pieces of advice he received from American actor, bodybuilder and “Original Incredible Hulk,” Lou Ferrigno, who also had hearing loss.

First, “it’s good to be physically tough, but it’s better to be mentally tough,” Ferrigno told Osmond. From the young age of 5, Ferrigno lost 80% of his hearing and required hearing aids. He learned that while he was a hulking wall of muscle, he gained his physique through sheer determination, stemmed from his mental grit to do another rep of a dumbbell or pull another deadlift.

 Second, “don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits.” Ferrigno attributed his hearing loss as inspiration for accomplishing so much. Ferrigno revealed in a 2012 interview that “if I wasn’t hard of hearing, I wouldn’t be where I am now. Early on, as a youngster it was difficult, but I’m not ashamed to talk about it because many people have misconceptions about hearing loss; like ‘who has hearing loss?’ and ‘what it’s like not to hear?’ so I do talk about it. I think my hearing loss helped create a determination within me to be all that I can be and gave me a certain strength of character, too.”

Third, “use people’s underestimation to your advantage. Prove them wrong.” Osmond did this by undergoing intense therapy for 12 years that helped him to develop speaking skills to effectively communicate audibly with those around him. He even began practicing and becoming proficient in playing various musical instruments like the guitar, drum and viola.

This advice from Ferrigno, Osmond said, helps him to live a more abundant life. It gave him the courage to tackle the challenges that come from hearing loss. He eventually set goals, or acorns, that he can achieve – from visiting all 50 states, to riding a camel in Egypt – Osmond told the audience that they can do anything they set their minds to.

One of Osmond’s biggest fears was commitment, which he tackled head on in 2013 by proposing to his then girlfriend, Kristi. Osmond said it was “the scariest night of my life,” but she accepted his proposal. The couple wanted to start a family immediately after being married, but they unfortunately miscarried their first child. Fertility specialists tried to help them conceive, but to no avail. For Justin and Kristi, it was a very difficult time. Kristi Osmond described it as a “very dark time” in their lives. They realized having their own family would mean doing it another way, so they decided to adopt. Adoption was another harrowing process, but they managed to adopt two newborn baby girls in 2016.

“Rainbows appear with the rain,” Kristi Osmond said of their adoptive daughters.

Justin Osmond said he lives his life with “good memories, not unfulfilled dreams.” If there’s something he wants to pursue, he does it. Among his accomplishments, Osmond has traveled the world supplying hearing aids to many children who experience hearing loss in developing countries. From Africa to Asia, Osmond’s charity, the Olive Osmond Hearing Fund, which was named in honor of his late grandmother, has touched numerous lives through the collaborative efforts of generous donors.

In 2015, Osmond ran 250 miles to raise funds for 25 youth in Washington County with hearing loss. He said it was one of the most physically demanding things he has ever done. At the 200-mile mark, just when he was about to give up, one of those 25 kids gave him a hug, which “unleashed the energizer bunny” in him. He was able to raise the money and run the marathon in a week. 

Osmond concluded his keynote address by playing “The Greatest Showman’s” “A Million Dreams” on the viola, another notable accomplishment for an individual of severe hearing loss. The performance earned him a standing ovation.