Max L. had an extraordinary experience that many marching band players only dream of…he performed at the 2018 Big Game Justin Timberlake halftime show. The truly amazing part? Max is a Cochlear Implant recipient and is part of his college’s elite marching band. Read on to learn about Max’s love and talent for music as well as incredible journey to hearing:

Max, performer at the Justin Timberlake halftime show, with bandmates

“I’ve always had a love for two things: music and sports. This year, I was able to combine those two things when I had the opportunity to play with Justin Timberlake at his Big Game halftime show this year. Playing on the world’s biggest stage, along with the rest of the University of Minnesota Marching Band was surreal to say the least.

The support I have had from my friends, family and professors has been even better. Even though I have not always been an easy person to deal with, given the fact that I have a progressive hearing loss, countless people have had my back. This is my story of going through the process of getting a cochlear implant and how that has culminated to the incredible experiences I now get to have as a band member.

Love for marching band regained

I joined marching band in the summer before high school. Before that, I had hated band and the forced hours of practice in middle school. Once I joined band in high school, band took on a whole new meaning for me. Band now meant playing at football games and being out on the field during halftime, in an attempt to make the crowd cheer. Band and playing trombone, was officially fun again, and I could not wait to try to join a college band.

Max before his performance at the Justin Timberlake halftime showHowever, playing trombone was getting harder as I was getting older, because my ears were starting to ‘ring’ more and more often. That ‘ringing’ (the actual term being tinnitus) can be very hard to ignore. Classes were getting harder, partly due to the fact that despite sitting at or near the front in almost every class, I was having trouble hearing my teachers!

My parents and I decided to get my ears checked, which I had not done since 7th grade. I was only half-shocked to find out that my right ear was basically completely useless… My left ear could still hear, maybe as much as 70 percent of sentences, on a good day. Still, we were going to have to look into something, and my doctor suggested a cochlear implant.

One of the most unique things about me, at least, in comparison to the hundreds of bandmates and classmates I have had over the last few years, is that I have hearing loss, and I have a scar running through my eye (that has basically left me unable to see out of it). This has led me to question what exactly happened during my development to lead to these two things. The excellent doctors I went to in Rochester, Minnesota, who I feel are some of the best in the world, tried to answer that question, and unfortunately, they came up empty. After missing multiple days of school to check out my genetics, to see if I have a muscle problem (by sticking needles in my arms and legs, by taking an MRI of my head…), it was all seemingly for nothing. No one really knows exactly why I cannot hear out of my right ear. All of that processing led to one thing though: I was qualified for a cochlear implant.

Process of getting a cochlear implant

Many people ask me about my Cochlear Implant without realizing what the process is like to get one or how long the process of learning how to hear again can be. I was able to get some sound on activation day, but it took a few months to get my ears fully in sync. I was also lucky, because after the surgery, I did not feel any after effects that some feel.

I was able to go to a fantasy football draft the next day, and I came in second in that league. I find that many people do not understand the work that every person with a cochlear implant has had to do to get to the spot they are, hearing-wise, today.

All the work was worth it

Of course, that work has made all of this worth it. Look at what I have been able to do with my Cochlear Implant: I made it into the University of Minnesota Marching Band, one of the most elite bands in the nation. Seriously, if you are in a high school band, do your best to join a college band, no matter the type. It will always be a blast. Socially, I am much more confident, and I am not afraid to go talk to people most of the time. I know when I need to ask for help, and now I have caption assistance in class to help make sure I do not miss anything.

One of the other largest benefits of having my Cochlear Implant is the help to those around me. I would say that is mainly because I do not have to ask them to say things five times before I understand them. I do not have to fight through the tinnitus nearly as often, and that means I do not have nearly as many ‘talking too loud for the situation’ awkward moments.

Overall, the benefits for me have greatly outweighed the cost. Being able to make 40 best friends (just in the trombone section!), and be with them on the field at US Bank Stadium back in February for The Big Game, is just a small aspect of how much my Cochlear Implant has affected my life, and I would not have it any other way.”

Are you eager to try to be able to play and listen to music like Max? Educate yourself on the benefits of a cochlear implant today.

Cara Lippitt
Cara Lippitt is the Senior Manager, Social Media Strategy at Cochlear Americas. Cara is inspired by the stories of the recipients that she is able to tell and the incredible journeys they have taken. Cara was born and raised in Colorado and adores the mountains, snow and the world of musical theatre.