The Inspiring Parents of Seahawks’ Derrick Coleman Jr.

I live in Texas, so you will understand when I say I do not follow the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve never been to Washington State. In fact, the closest I’ve come to anything related to Seattle is watching umpteen “Fraiser” episodes. So it may surprise you when I say I’ve fallen in love with the parents of fullback Derrick Coleman, but it’s true.

You may recall a moving Duracell commercial that aired a year ago when Seattle was preparing for last year’s Super Bowl. It featured the first-ever, legally deaf NFL player, Derrick Coleman Jr. and advocated trusting the power within to overcome obstacles. As I dried my tears, my curiosity sparked. This success required support and powerful narratives. I had to know more about his parents.

Derrick Coleman Sr. is a writer and a quieter soul. May Hamlin, Derrick Jr.’s mom, is more vocal, calling herself “very opinionated.” I found her to be warm, articulate and a passionate advocate.

When they received the diagnosis of Derrick’s deafness at age three, May admits, “I was heartbroken.” Derrick Sr. said, “We went through thoughts, ‘How do we deal with this? What kind of life will he have?’ Our heads were spinning.”1 Pushing aside their grief, they tapped into their courage and set out to help their son. May went to work on Derrick’s lagging verbal skills by engaging him in lots of conversation. They resolved that, despite his challenge, not to treat Derrick differently. And they adopted a “no excuses” policy where hearing could never be made the culprit.

Life in elementary school added more heart-wrenching challenges for the couple. May shared that some of the toughest moments were watching Derrick walk with his head down because no one wanted to play with him or eat with him because of his hearing aids.3 She added, “You try to be calm and hold it together for your child, but inside its tearing you up. But you don’t want to show that…You want to tell them it’s gonna be okay. You can get through this.”5 May equipped her son with a powerful response: Derrick remembers, “My mom always said people who make fun of you and try to bring you down…They’re trying to bring you down to their level.”4

In the midst of these trials, Derrick took a liking to football and wanted to try out for his local Pop Warner team. Afraid he might further damage his hearing, Derrick Sr. did not immediately agree, but Derrick Jr persisted until his dad finally gave in. May knew if her son was going to succeed, she would need to “put my all into it.” And she did, innovating ways to keep his hearing aids in and more.

And what happened? At first seeing Derrick play, his father recalls, “I was like, ‘Wow this kid can play football’. I would be running up and down the field right alongside with him…and started to feel…‘Hey, he has something.” 2 Yet critics filled the bleachers. May revealed, “I couldn’t sit around people in fear that they would say something negative about his hearing. [Derrick] knew exactly where I sat, all the way at the top, all alone by myself.”2

Derrick excelled at UCLA and hoped to be drafted in 2012. But coaches could not see past his hearing challenges. “It still hurts, as a mom.” But things changed when the Seahawks gave him a chance in 2013 and he went on to help them win the Super Bowl.

May and Derrick Sr. set out to help their child realize his dream—it’s what parents do. What they did not anticipate is the legacy they have created: Derrick’s story has inspired hundreds of physically and mentally challenged children to dream. Looking at the hope in the eyes of these kids and hearing the narratives they have borrowed from Derrick to combat bullies and spur themselves on with No Excuses, nearly brings me to tears. It’s beautiful.

I doubt I will ever have the privilege of meeting Derrick or May, but if I ever do, I would ask them where they learned their narratives, for like those that I weave throughout my books, they are empowering, but rare, and don’t just pop out of thin air.

Sources:
View the Duracell commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzQFA2hxyRQ

1 http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/17/sports/sp-coleman17
2 http://abled.com/2014/01/18/abledpeople-derrick-coleman-the-seattle-seahawks-fullback-who-s-inspiring-a-generation-of-deaf-fans/
3 http://www.adayinmotherhood.com/derrick-coleman/
4 http://www.cbsnews.com/news/deaf-nfl-player-derrick-coleman-inspires-on-and-off-the-field/
5 http://www.examiner.com/article/interview-derrick-coleman-s-mom-may-hamlin-on-parenting-bullying-power-within

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Robin Williams and My Son

I felt like a spider watching prey approach its web as I waited, eyes dancing, behind a curtain protecting my identity. The man approached, whistling without a care. He flung open the hinged lid of our trash can, threw a gloved hand over his nose and doubled over. I couldn’t help myself. I burst out laughing. “That poor man!” I convulsed. I half expected to hear sirens after he reported us to authorities – a homicide.

Rewind four hours. The warm, sunny, July day had started as uneventfully as any day with a two and four-year-old can. It was Thursday, trash day. And it seemed to be taking my husband longer than usual to move the can the ten yards to the street, so I popped my head out into the garage.

“Do you smell something…foul?” he questioned, a pained expression emblazoned across his face.

Venturing toward the open garage door, I sniffed the air then jerked back. “Did you put a dead body in your trunk?” I joked. We burrowed behind boxes, lawn tools, and bikes, the source evading us. The breeze rippled through the garage once more and, in unison, we exclaimed, “The freezer!” Full of “on sale” meat, my husband warily pulled open the door, hoping, wishing…fearing. The stench of the rank contents assaulted our senses. He nearly lost his breakfast.

“How?” he pondered. Inspection revealed the temperature dial set to “off.” We knew who’d struck again! The task of disposing of the bodies was left to me…and the unsuspecting trash man.

 

My husband and I were duped when our first child, a compliant, determined, self-mobilized little girl entered the world two and a half years before our son. Based on our experiences raising her, we naively thought parenting was not so difficult. But our son seemed hell-bent on shattering our bliss.

To say he was curious was an understatement. Buttons, dials, anything he did not understand, fascinated him. A few examples: smearing the contents of his soiled diaper all over himself, his walls and carpet at one-and-a-half. The events recounted above, at two. As a teenager, we changed the password on his computer to revoke his privileges for a time. He reinstalled MS Windows, effectively circumventing his problem (what kid does that?). Denise the Menace had stiff competition with this one.

You will understand then why my husband and I felt stretched. Some said, “Enjoy this time, it goes all too quickly.” I wanted to respond, “You have no idea.” What does a parent do to shape and mold a child in hopes of producing a responsible, contributing member of society when that child ignores reasonable boundaries or refuses to learn except by experiencing society’s consequences? While the challenges we faced have produced fodder for my protagonist, Andy Smithson, in my middle grade fantasy adventure series, the net result for my husband and I: being humbled, frustrated, and at times despairing, as our son grew.

Lucky for the boy, he was a cuddly kid who loved to laugh and knew no strangers. A common scene in our home was him, arms bursting, bearing a foursome of stuffed animal buddies, searching me out. I contributed personalities and voices. As for a tender heart, my son was known to give a new toy to another without hesitation.

We had him tested after fifth grade and results confirmed he is ADHD—put another way, he is off-the-charts brilliant, but cannot organize effectively nor control many of his impulses, impacting anything as seemingly simple as putting him to bed to spending to grades and everything in between. Motivating him to do anything uninteresting…a trial. But, direct him to something that captured his attention…look out! I empathized with the families of Robin Williams, Bill Gates, Adam Levine, Michael Phelps, Walt Disney, Einstein, da Vinci, Mozart, Newton and others with ADHD.

Hormones triggered the first welcome hints of maturity and I began to see some positives developing. My son’s unwillingness to conform to our punishments translated to resisting pressure from peers and I saw him begin to lead. His problem-solving ability translated into being good at building things. He was still challenging, but for the first time, I had hope something good could come of it.

Now, after all the struggles of the last nineteen years, my son leaves for boot camp with the Air Force in a few days. For my husband and I, we have instilled in him what we could; we have persevered and given him our best. Now it is up to him. He will face challenges that will test his mettle. But I know he has what it takes to soar and he will change the world.

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Harry Potter Stole Christmas!

Who has delighted in the Great Hall at Hogwarts bedecked in holiday apparel, caught one of the snowflakes that wafted down from the ceiling on your tongue, giggled at seeing the hairy-footed gnome atop the Weasley’s tree, or couldn’t hold a snicker at hearing Peeves’ raucous version of carols from inside the knight’s armor? Better yet, who felt truly loved and accepted at the Burrow? Or imagined receiving a gift thoughtfully made just for you with love, courtesy of Mrs. Weasley? Yes, Harry stole the Christmas we are used to experiencing with busy family and imperfect friends, and replaced it with an experience only our imaginations could conjure.

Christmastime captures the awe and wonder of children like few other holidays or occasions. We see their joyful anticipation as they scrutinize packages under the tree. We delight in their curiosity and chuckle at their humble attempts to deduce what treasure waits to be discovered in each present bearing their name. We smile and wonder what a child listening attentively to The Night Before Christmas, The Legend of the Christmas Stocking or other holiday tale might be contemplating.

When I was little, I’d watch the mail for the JC Penney Christmas Wish Book. As soon as it arrived, I would dig in and spend hours dreaming of play with an amazing doll house, a fun train set, a cuddly stuffed animal, or other tantalizing toy. Christmas Eve I would leave a plate of cookies and milk for Santa and struggle to stay awake just to hear his reindeer and sleigh on the roof. As I got older, I began to doubt the jolly old man’s existence. But that year I found myself on an airplane on Christmas Eve and the pilot came over the loud speaker announcing, ”Kids, we’ve just spotted Santa off the left side of the plane.” Unfortunately, I sat on the side opposite and by the time I got to a window to look, he had vanished. The following year, soot boot prints, originating from the fireplace, appeared on the carpet of our home, keeping my doubts at bay a bit longer.

I will never forget the year my husband and I decided to give our son fifty dollars as part of his Christmas presents. Knowing he would not understand the magnitude of the gift if it were a single bill, I wrapped fifty, one-dollar bills. When he opened it Christmas day, his eyes lit up, then he jumped up and, waving the wad above his head, yelled, “I’m rich! I’m rich!”

I love those fun memories! And why not? For each of these experiences began with imagination. As an author of children’s fantasy adventures, I thrill at comments I receive from readers saying the world of Oomaldee is described so well they can imagine how everything looks. Others speak to thoroughly enjoying touching moments between characters. These are folks whose imaginations transport them to another place, renewing that spark of wonder that makes them and our world a better place when they return.

So, even though Harry Potter stole Christmas, I won’t be pressing charges or filing a police report. For he is that power that takes us anywhere we can dream and makes us better than we are.


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The Life and Times of Author L. R. W. Lee