HARLEM — When she's out on the beach playing competitive volleyball, Charity Sanders has multiple obstacles to overcome.
The fact that she's deaf isn't one of them.
"It’s hot, the sand is hot, there are no substitutes and no coaches on court so you really have to be mentally tough more than anything else," said Sanders, 29, who lives in West Harlem, during an interview conducted via a word-processing program on her laptop.
"It requires more chemistry between the players and setting up a strategy where in every situation you have a plan," she added. "I think that hearing volleyball players could benefit from playing like deaf people."
She and her partner, Nancy Moore, 48, of California, are now just $1,200 away from raising enough money to represent the U.S. in beach volleyball at the 2013 Summer Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria, starting July 26.
The Deaflympics is sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee but there is no funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee to attend the event, which was founded in 1924 to help dispel notions that deaf people were intellectually inferior.
More than 4,000 deaf athletes from 77 countries competed in the 2009 Summer Deaflympics in Taipei, Taiwan. And while the other teams compete in the sport as a full-time job, Sanders and Moore have to juggle their time off to train, travel to international competitions and fundraise.
"With raising money, and balancing workouts and work, it hasn’t been easy but it wouldn’t be as fun or rewarding if it was," said Sanders, who hopes to take on teams from Russia, Japan, Turkey and the Ukraine — the incoming favorite.
But she said the experience has taught her to, "Seize the day. Take every opportunity that comes your way and...fight."
If Sanders and her partner win, it will be the United States' first gold medal in the competition.
Sanders and Moore work well together, she said. Both are offensive-minded but Moore is shorter and can get to the hard-to-reach balls while the taller Sanders is skilled at blocking, she said.
In Harlem, Sanders loves passing the Apollo Theater on her way to the Metro North train that takes her to work.
"The culture and vibrancy here is unlike anything else," she said.
"People should support me because I’m fighting hard for something I believe in."
Sanders, who works for an urban planning firm in Westchester, was born deaf to deaf parents in Kansas and graduated from Gallaudet University before studying urban planning at Hunter College.
When she was 16, Sanders started playing indoor volleyball. She was on the developing indoor volleyball team and went to the Deaflympics in Australia and Argentina. She resigned from the team because of work obligations and the difficulty of fundraising.
Last fall, Sanders had an opportunity to go to Turkey for the World Deaf Beach Volleyball Championships.
"From that point on I realized how fun beach volleyball is. I just kind of fell into it but it’s been a fun journey," Sanders said.
Raising the necessary money has also been an adventure for Sanders. She has raised almost $3,300 of the $4,500 she needs for the trip using fundraising site Rally.org.
Sanders says she chose Rally because it allowed her to link to videos using YouTube so she could communicate using American Sign Language.
Rally.org co-founder and CEO Tom Serres called Sanders' fundraising efforts a "poignant reminder" of the site's mission.
"Charity's effective use of sign language to communicate her story marks a powerful new storytelling medium in online fundraising," Serres said.
Communicating with other deaf or hearing-impaired individuals from around the globe using international sign language is a part of the trip that Sanders is looking forward to.
"Many people don’t realize that deaf people have a culture based on our visual language. And across the globe, we can share that experience. We can communicate with each other probably more easily than say a hearing person from France and someone from Spain," Sanders said.
It's a journey Sanders plans to take her supporters on with a variety of pictures and videos from her trip.
"They will get to experience my journey with me....It’ll be a cultural journey I can take my supporters with me on," Sanders said.