Lydia Sempere

The sounds of silence

05/25/2022 · By Alfonso S. Lozano
Lydia Sempere is a race car driver, despite having profound bilateral hearing loss
Lydia Sempere is a race car driver, despite having profound bilateral hearing loss. © Image courtesy of Lydia Sempere

Lydia Sempere has been behind the wheel for almost two decades. A fan of motorsports almost since the cradle —she started competing at the tender age of seven—, this self-confessed supporter of Fernando Alonso has had to overcome a significant barrier: she was born deaf. Despite this, with “hard work, passion, and discipline”, she’s managed to compete one-on-one against some of the best drivers in Spain.

Lydia Sempere (Alicante, 1997) was born with profound bilateral hearing loss. Nobody would have imagined what this young woman from Alicante would be today: a race car driver. For a long time, until she recently started competing with her two cochlear implants, she couldn’t hear the car, so she learnt how to interpret the sounds of silence. An example of overcoming the odds that, as well as inspiring other disabled people and proving that limits don’t exist, aims to fight against bullying, which she suffered herself when she was little.

You’re a deaf female race car driver, do you feel like a pioneer?
As a disabled driver, yes, because there’s no other deaf drivers competing at the level that I currently do. But as a woman, there are more and more female drivers, I’m just one of them.

Where does your passion for motorsports come from?
My father, who used to do motocross, is responsible for my love for driving. When I was five, he tried to get me into riding motorbikes, but because of my hearing loss, I didn’t have much balance, so we moved onto karts.

“Driving without hearing generates insecurity: you’re missing the information the car conveys and the driver perceives through sound”

During the last season, Lydia competed in the Spanish Supertouring Championship, her first experience beyond karts. Her driving improved because, thanks to an adapted helmet, she was able to race with her cochlear implants.

You’ve competed with and without implants, do they significantly change the way you drive?
Yes, it’s completely different. Driving without hearing is extremely overwhelming because it generates a lot of insecurities: you’re missing the information the car conveys and the driver perceives through sound. Also, when I did kart racing, I couldn’t block gaps during the race because I didn’t know which way my rival was coming. Now I don’t have that problem, I have rear-view mirrors! (laughs). The main difference is related to confidence and understanding the car; hearing the engine while you drive is the best feeling ever.

How has the shift from kart to car been and how do you rate your first season?
Difficult, because they’re completely different worlds. My first season has consisted of training and adapting. Also, with touring cars you need to make a big investment to develop the cars and I was on a tight budget. What I do need to work on is trusting the car and taking the pressure off myself in terms of results. So, I can enjoy the learning process more.

For Lydia, not driving in silence has meant a leap forward in her driving. Her ability to listen has been added to her hard work and talent, and now we’ll be able to see her best self behind the wheel.

You’ve developed your talent for driving with almost everything stacked against you. With that experience, what is talent for you?
Talent is the ability to make the most out of everything you do. It’s also the capacity to adapt to any situation. In my case, I’m not the best driver, but I am someone who has known how to adapt well to difficulties to compete and grow, surpassing myself every day.

As well as talent, what else do you need to succeed?
Commitment, hard work, passion, and discipline.

Lydia combines her university studies with the demanding motorsports world, which requires many hours of work a day, whether dedicated to tough physical training or the simulator which allows her to study courses to improve her driving. She also attends meetings with children, both deaf and hearing, to share her experience.

When you meet deaf children, what do they ask you?
They ask me about my operations or if I suffered a lot... Also, about how I hear or about the differences between my old implants and the new ones. Or stuff about driving, and they challenge me to a kart race (laughs).

Do you think they see you as inspiration?
Yes, they do because of what I’ve overcome. And they also identify with me because they face the same problems, like the insecurities I mentioned before when I couldn’t hear during the races.

“I’m not the best driver, but I am someone who has known how to adapt well to difficulties”

Lydia admits she was bullied at school. Now she tries to raise awareness against bullying and shares her experience to try to help all of those who might be suffering from it.

You were bullied and now you give talks about it, how did it affect you?
It affected me quite a lot, but the important thing is that it’s over now and I’m much stronger. If I went back as I am now, they wouldn’t have laughed at me so much, now I have the confidence to defend myself and know how to ignore inappropriate comments.

What do you think can be done to end this kind of harassment?
No single person can end bullying, it’s a joint effort: teaching values, learning how to love, respect, and take care of ourselves and each other from a young age. It’s all down to educating society.

Do you still face negative attitudes today? In the world of motorsports, for example.
Sometimes, but it’s not necessarily related to my disability. For example, my agent, who’s a woman, and I see that our opinions aren’t valued. There are many men who don’t take us or what we do seriously because we’re two women working together. It seems that trusting two women makes them feel insecure, and that happens with sponsors, and even in pit stops.

Finally, which are your next steps and goals you set yourself?
This year I’m going to race the Clio Cup, it’s a really interesting single-brand race. Although it means adapting to another car, I trust that everything will go well. Also, the competition will be fierce and that helps me to learn, both the good (when you overtake) and the bad (when they overtake you or you get hit).