This is Jason Burke
This is Jason Burke. Jason is founder and brand ambassador of snkrbox, a digital platform for sports and fashion enthusiasts rooted in sneaker culture. He has worked for more than 15 years in the fashion world with the likes of Bata Canada, Roots Canada and Canada Goose. He was named one of Toronto Life magazine’s Most Stylish people in the city in 2014. He is avid about sports, having tried out as a player in the Canadian Football League for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the B.C. Lions and the Toronto Argonauts. He is a devoted single father of two, a self-described “sneakerhead,” and a frequent fixture on the basketball court, soccer pitch and Toronto’s Thompson Hotel.
He is also hard of hearing.
“I’ve always had heightened senses. I’ve got great sensory perception,” Burke told Vibes during an interview at Dark Horse, a hip café in midtown Toronto that often subs as his virtual office. But between the birth of his daughter and his son, Jason noticed a change in his hearing. “When we used to put my daughter to bed, I could hear her cry in the middle of the night. I’d get up and go feed her – no problem. But after my son was born, my son would cry in the middle of the night and I couldn’t hear him.” Jason’s then-wife would be forced to nudge him awake. “She’d say, ‘He’s crying. Go feed him – it’s your shift.’ And I’d be like, ‘What are you talking about? I can’t hear him.’” That revelation led to a trip to the audiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital where Jason learned he had neurodegeneration behind his ears. The cause is tough to pinpoint, but whether the result of years of rough physical play on the football field, nights at noisy clubs, genetics, or a combination of factors, the diagnosis was clear: his hearing loss was progressive and would continue to decrease.
“Could be five months, could be five years could be 50 years. I don’t know what the future holds, so I’ve mentally and emotionally started to prepare myself for a life without hearing at all,” Jason says. “As an athlete and a positive-thinking person, it’s like, Okay, this is happening to you – what are you going to do about it? How are you going to continue live as normal a life as possible?”
Soon after his diagnosis, Jason received his first pair of hearing aids. At first, Jason found the new technology amazing. (He remembers the awe he experienced hearing his ex’s voice clearly for the first time in years, leaving him wondering what else he’d been missing). But despite this new world of sound, Jason still found it difficult to hear in certain environments. He was working in a corporate environment at the time and struggled greatly in large meeting rooms.
“I was like, ‘I can’t hear anything. Why is everybody so quiet in this place? Why is everything a secret? Why is everybody whispering?’ It was always such a struggle,” he admits.
In an effort to lessen work-related stresses, his audiologist put him in touch with CHS. Jason soon discovered there were tools available that could help, including an FM system to help him hear in certain listening environments using Bluetooth technology and captioning services available on a mobile device to assist with meeting notes.
“I started to realize how much I was missing out,” Jason says. “CHS has been really awesome in helping facilitate that process and making work environments more workable for me.”
As a former pro athlete, the biggest challenge, Jason admits, has been to accept that his ear was not functioning at 100% capacity. “The mental part for me has been the biggest issue. I've had to adjust to this new normal and adapt how I work as a result. It's been a challenge, but one that both my professional and athletic experiences have prepared me for,” he says. “I didn’t expect this situation to happen to me at all, but my experience with athletics has allowed me – in my headspace – to rebound.”
Jason says an important part of dealing with his hearing loss has been about making himself available for others who are going through the same challenge. As a creative entrepreneur, Jason says his hearing loss is just another opportunity for him to prove to himself that he is capable of overcoming any personal obstacles that come his way. “My goal is to eliminate the biases or the profiling or the suggestions that people might have about people with hearing loss by just being successful,” Burke says. “Hearing loss is something that I deal with and I live with, but it doesn’t define who I am or inhibit my ability to be hyper-successful.”
For more information on Jason Burke, his work and his clothing line, visit www.snkrbox.com.