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How New Jersey's 'Deaf Strongman' Found Happiness Amid Hearing Loss

The moment Nick Gentile lost his hearing will never leave him.

Nick Gentile
Nick Gentile Photo Credit: Special to Daily Voice

The Fort Lee native was working as a salesman, and was on a sales call, when suddenly his hearing disappeared from his left ear.

Gentile had been having hearing troubles in both ears since elementary school, but he never thought it would come to that.

The now-28-year-old walked out of work that day nearly deaf in his right ear and fully deaf in his left. He went on disability for months, the gym his sanctuary, as he made sense of his new life.

Lifting with a focus on becoming a professional powerlifter — along with helping others stay in shape — kept Gentile's spirit alive through some of his darkest moments.

Years of hard work paid off for Gentile last month, when he earned his professional Strongman card after taking first place in his weight class at The Ragnarok Games, a power lifting competition, in Miami.

"You can’t let a disability stop you from doing what you really want to do," Gentile said.

A lifelong athlete, Gentile grew up playing basketball and football in Fort Lee. It was after school, though, when Gentile played video games that he noticed the sound was softer in one side of his headphones than the other. Over time, it got worse.

Gentile often experienced headaches and would complain of dizziness. He thought it was his vision causing his discomfort, but his hearing was only getting worse.

"One day my basketball coach noticed I was coming into practice every day with a headache," Gentile said. "He told me I needed to fix it."

And so, Gentile went out and got his first pair of hearing aids. They were about $4,000 — but they didn't work like they were supposed to. So he didn't wear them and instead, did his best as his hearing deteriorated week by week, through the end of high school and all throughout college.

Gentile graduated with a degree in communications, and became a successful salesman. But when he experienced a complete loss of hearing one day in his left ear, he knew he'd have to shift career paths.

"It crushed me," Gentile said. "I was very good at sales, I could talk to people. I was like, what do I do now?"

Gentile went on disability for the next six months while he figured out his life.

"I had a really good support system," Gentile said. "My girlfriend's family took me in to live with them and paid for me to et new hearing aids. Without them, I can't hear anything. I'd pretty much be a fully-deaf person.

"They were life-saving for me."

With his new hearing aids and a fresh perspective on life, Gentile played on his strengths, literally. He spent much of his time in the gym, focusing on powerlifting.

"That was my getaway from being unemployed," Gentile said. "I lived on disability and couldn't work — going to the gym as an everyday thing."

Each session made Gentile feel stronger, mentally and physically. 

Eventually, Gentile decided to turn his passion for fitness into a career path and become a personal trainer. He works at Underground Fitness in Tenafly, where members say he's an inspiration.

"Nick was dealt a tough hand and and he doesn’t let it affect him in any way, shape, or form," John Pasquale tells Daily Voice. "He inspires others to work hard based on that. This is a guy who knows what he’s doing and will share his knowledge all the time."

"He works with a huge range of clients — a kid who's six or seven years old, or a man in his 40 just looking to get in shape. He treats them both with the same respect and shows them what they need to do to get better."

When he wasn't working with clients, Gentile worked toward becoming a professional powerlifter, competing at local competitions. 

He began training for the Ragnarok about a year out from the competition. His gym friends and trainers helped him come up with a training strategy. 

Gentile went into Ragnarok for fun, but when he found out he could win his pro card if he won his weight class, he became focused on winning.

"I had the help I needed behind me," he said. "I told my training team to put me through whatever they had to, and I'll do it."

Gentile spent six months training hard. Every day had its own specific plan. He'd warm up, perform a main lift like a deadlift or a squat, and then do some conditioning. He'd train four days a week and take three days of rest.

At the competition in Miami last month, Gentile was the lightest in his weight class by 40 pounds. And still, he pulled 700 pounds on a deadlift, lifted a 300-pound stone and excelled at several other lifts that won him first place in the Open Heavyweight Class.

"I was always a skinny kid and the kid people made fun of," Gentile said. "I was always looked over. So being able to be something where you walk into a room and be noticed as the strongest guy in the room was everything to me, but having a pro card — I have no words for that. I'm still in shock."

While at the competition, Gentile met a handful of disabled competitors. 

"I was able to talk to them and we all said the same thing: If there’s anything stopping you from doing what you want, there’s always a way to do it," Gentile said. 

"There is something or someone who can help you. You can’t let a disability stop you from doing what you really want to do."

Gentile says his hearing loss ultimately led him to happiness.

"This is where I should be and these are the people I should be around," he said. "Johnny [Pasquale] and MB Klyman, Underground's owner, have been the biggest supports I could ever imagine.

"MB gives me the opportunity to work here and it’s changed my life. Being here at Underground is the best thing to happen to me. I know I belong here and I’m going to stay here for as long as I can."

As for powerlifting? Gentile's working toward a national Strongman competition in April.

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