Raising Awareness About Hearing Loss With Derrick Coleman

Photo: Corky Trewin

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would be shaking the hand of a Seattle Seahawk Super Bowl champion, let alone getting my picture taken with him! That was certainly not on my bucket list, but hey, it was a fun experience being up close and personal with several of these down-to-earth guys with their humongous muscles.

I recently helped to coordinate an event called the Celebration of Hearing, a fundraiser which grew out of a partnership between the Seattle Seahawks and five organizations that deal with hearing-loss issues. One of their star players, Derrick Coleman, the No. 40 running back, is deaf and wanted to raise awareness about hearing loss. You might remember him being featured in this inspiring Duracell commercial that went viral.

Coleman met Paige Stringer, the founder and executive director of the Global Foundation for Children with Hearing Loss, last year and the two had an immediate connection. Both have hearing losses, attended universities on athletic scholarships, were mainstreamed in their education, and are passionate about advocating for children with hearing loss.

They decided to collaborate on a charity event that promoted awareness of hearing loss.

They told me I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live my dream. But I’ve been deaf since I was 3, so I didn’t listen.

— Derrick Coleman, Seattle Seahawks Football Player and Super Bowl Champion

Stringer, an incredible networker, rounded up four other Seattle organizations working on hearing loss to be part of this event: Seattle Children's Hospital, the University of Washington Speech and Hearing Sciences, the Virginia Merrill Bloedel Hearing Research Center, and Listen and Talk. The group called themselves the "Special Teams for Hearing."

I have been helping Stringer with several projects for her nonprofit, which works to provide technology, education and resources to professionals, families, and children with hearing loss in Vietnam. She is basically single-handedly running the organization, in addition to working tirelessly these last few months spearheading this event.

Knowing that I work with volunteers at my current job with FamilyWorks, Stringer asked for help coordinating 13 other volunteers to help the event run smoothly.

On the big day, I found myself carrying a clipboard filled with endless notes, running from one end of the Centurylink Sports Lounge to the other (my thighs were so sore the next day), troubleshooting event issues with volunteers, greeting guests, and making sure the program stayed on schedule. Important aside: I hail from that "snowy" city, Buffalo, N.Y., where the Buffalo Bills football team rose to ignominious fame through their four consecutive failed bids for the Super Bowl title. I have a vivid memory of going to one very snowy and freezing football game in Buffalo where the benches were covered with at least a 1/2 foot of snow.

But after the Bills lost the Super Bowl so many times in a row, I swore off ever watching football again.

Even so, year after year I would sneak glances at the TV to watch the Super Bowl, particularly if it was a team I admired, like the San Francisco 49ers (I swooned over Joe Montana).

When I moved to Seattle in 1997, I still wasn't a football fan even though Buffalo Bills coach Chuck Knox used to coach the Seahawks (1983-1991). And now I am ambivalent about watching an incredibly violent sport in which players make a ridiculous amount of money. This New York Times article says it all.

But I couldn't help it. This is the first time I have lived in a city that has a Super Bowl winner! I was thrilled and honored when I was invited to participate in this cause which showcased an issue, hearing loss, which I live and breathe, being deaf myself and having two children who are deaf. And not only that: Derrick Coleman!

The event was wildly successful, and we raised significant funds for the Special Teams for Hearing.

The best part was Stringer's interview with Coleman about his life and approach to his hearing loss. He was quite passionate about this subject and talked animatedly about his experience growing up deaf.

"What message do you have for parents of young children who are deaf or hard of hearing?" Stringer asked.

"Don't ever let them use their hearing as an excuse not to do something," he replied. 

Coleman, who has been deaf since he was 3, went on to say that his parents forced him to become more open about his hearing loss and to be up front with people about who he was. And that is why he adopted the “no excuses” mantra.

After the program, I had a chance to visit briefly with Coleman (and even had the distinction of being the first person at the event to get my picture taken with him). I mentioned that both my children also have hearing losses, and I shared that, deep down, I know the right thing is to push them to advocate for themselves, but that it is terribly difficult, as a parent, to see them fall down when the going gets rough.

Coleman said that although he was not a parent, he completely understood. And he reminded me of something.

"You will be right there to help them back up."  

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