Nicolas Jacob is deaf, and his disability hasn’t kept him from running these past 15 years – to the contrary. He takes part in the world’s toughest races, including a few several hundred kilometres long, to push his limits and show that “nothing is impossible, even if you’re deaf.”
How did you start running? And why did you get into racing?
I’ve loved sports since I was a kid; I played football, athletics, tennis, basketball… But mostly football in a club that specialised in deaf people. I made it onto the French team and played on it at the Deaflympics. Unfortunately, I got injured, I tore my ligaments on both knees, one after the other, so I gave up football. But I refused to give up sport. So I decided to look for something else. That’s how I started running. I got the chance to run the 20-k marathon in Paris. At first I thought it would be too long, but then I went for it anyway. After that I quite naturally took up trail running – and have been running for almost 10 years now!
It’s fair to say it’s an extreme sport. How do you make it work with your disability? Is your goal to show that deaf people can do anything anyone else does?
Exactly, we can do anything others do! When I was planning to do the Marathon des Sables, at first everyone said “oh, no, don’t do it, it’s just impossible.” They were worried I would get lost in the desert. It’s true that there are whistles and other sound signals to direct racers. But I told them I’d be fine. I told them I had as good a brain as someone who hears well, as good a pair of legs, as good a heart. It’s true I can’t hear but I could still run the race. There are several stages and we get briefed on the dangers, hazards and so forth before each one. And I could ask questions like anyone else because there was a volunteer who knew sign language so I could take join in the conversation. Actually, three deaf runners made it to the end. We were all very emotional when we crossed the finishing line. But, yes, “nothing is impossible, even if you’re deaf!” This kind of adventure is an opportunity to show other deaf people that they can take part too, like everyone else.
Running is often an opportunity to champion a cause, too. Is there a lot of solidarity in running circles?
Yes, absolutely. Lots of marathons, and lots or marathon runners, support charities. For example, in 2013, a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer. He wanted to set up a non-profit so that deaf people could access more information about cancer. Lots of them feel helpless. There isn’t much information about the subject – or at least not as much as there is for people who hear well. That made him anxious, sometimes he worried he would misunderstand, he had trouble talking to doctors, too. So we organised a race in the mountains, at La Plagne, in Savoie, to support the Ligue Contre le Cancer. We raised €7,600 in donations, which was quite extraordinary for an organisation like that. There was really a great deal of support around that project, we had 23,000 followers on the Facebook page. And I think it really lifted my friend’s spirits, we were able to run together… And it’s true that solidarity is vital. He is no longer with us, but his charity is, and it’s still growing. This shows that there’s a lot of solidarity, and many beautiful stories, in running circles.
Do you follow a specific plan to prepare for marathons or longer races?
The first time I entered the 20 k race in Paris, in 2006, I had no experience. I didn’t know what sort of kit you needed, so I read up, I did my research. On the day, I looked at the other racers and I realised I wasn’t quite on the same page. So I kept on gathering information as time went by, I found out about training programmes to make progress… You realise that it’s really important to have a plan to prepare with plenty of time. Not preparing is a bad idea.
Paris 2024 will organise the Mass Participation Marathon, on the same route as the Olympic marathon. Would you find that motivating?
It would be fantastic! I think it’s a fantastic idea! It’s true that, when I heard about this marathon open to the public, I thought it was absolutely amazing. It means we all get a chance to take part in that race. It’s a brilliant idea to work on, and it would be really amazing to take part!