Despite injury, Brain still finds place for volleyball


On the volleyball court, Dori Brain discovered a sport she enjoyed as much as playing the piano. She never dreamed that one day volleyball would nearly rob her of her ear for music.

The Oakland Mills senior excelled at volleyball quickly while playing for club teams and for the Scorpions. For two years, she has been a setter on one of the East Coast's top 18-and-under club teams, Quaker City, Pa., defending champ in the highly competitive Atlantic Power Rim League.

But Brain's first love was music.

Since she was 3 years old, she could play the piano by ear and at 8, she wanted to be a concert pianist. When volleyball interfered with the rigid practice schedule of a budding concert pianist, Brain decided she would teach music instead.

Three years ago, her enthusiasm for music faced a severe test after a freak accident on the volleyball court eventually left her deaf in one ear.

Another club player hit Brain in the head with a serve during practice in February 1992.

"The girl tossed the ball too low or something but she really whaled the heck out of it and it went right into my head," said Brain. "I was about three, four feet away from her. At the impact of it, I just hit the floor because it hit me so hard. I heard ringing in my ear for the rest of practice."

That was just the beginning.

For weeks, Brain, who still had some hearing left in the ear, went from doctor to doctor. None could tell her what was wrong.

One doctor, she said, even made her worse. In one test, he shook her head in wide swings from side to side leaving her dizzy for a month. That upset her equilibrium so much that she could not walk straight and she could not focus her eyes. She couldn't read -- words or music.

She couldn't go to school and she couldn't play the piano much, but Brain did go back to volleyball practice. Only that kept her from going stir crazy.

Finally more than a month after the accident, she was diagnosed with a perilymphatic fistula, a hole in her inner ear.

Surgery to patch the hole was supposed to restore her hearing. Instead, it left her completely deaf in her left ear.

"They said hearing would come back within two months, but I'm still waiting," said Brain.

Despite all the difficulties, she never thought about giving up music or volleyball.

"People always ask me why I went back to volleyball, but by the time I had my accident, I couldn't live without it. I think if I went over a week without volleyball, I would be going nuts because I wouldn't know what to do."

When it came time to find a college, the National Honor Society member looked for one with a good music program and a volleyball team. She found it at East Carolina University, a Division I school in Greenville, N.C.

Not only has Brain been accepted into the music school, but she has received a full volleyball scholarship. She also is nominated for a music scholarship.

"People who don't know her don't realize there ever was a problem," said Mary Ranke Tamplin, who has instructed Brain for six years at the Peabody Institute Preparatory School's Annapolis campus. "She has trained herself to listen more intently with her right ear to be able to adjust the balance and compensate for it. She's been able to accomplish that beautifully."

That wasn't nearly as easy as it might sound.

Brain had to learn how to play the piano differently, more by touch than by sound. She had to overcome a tendency to play louder with her left hand so she could hear better.

"I had to learn how to compensate with my right ear," said Brain, adding that it took all summer working with Tamplin to adjust. "I had to work 20 times harder on each piece just to get the balance which to musicians comes very naturally -- you hear it, you fix it and that's it. I have to hear it, then feel it, then fix it."

Today, Brain is as enthusiastic about music as ever, and she shares it through a mentoring program at Ellicott Mills Middle School. There she is getting a head start on her future as a teacher.

"One boy I finally got to play the piano," said Brain, of a student who had some trouble in other classes. "He could play his chord progressions and everything. He took his test and got an A. He was so happy and so excited and he was like, 'I can do it now.' I felt really good because I had something to do with that. I think that's why I really want to teach."

After all she has overcome, reaching that goal should be a breeze.

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