By Larry Fine
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Seattle Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman has triumphed already, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos.
Coleman, the third deaf player to compete in the National Football League, has beaten the odds and his story has inspired the hearing impaired and others battling adversity around the globe.
An ad he did for the Duracell batteries that power his hearing aids went viral on YouTube with more than 13 million views and led to his becoming a champion to the hearing impaired, especially among the young.
“They told me it couldn’t be done, but I’ve been deaf since I was three, so I didn’t listen,” Coleman says in the ad.
Coleman, a backup fullback who also plays on special teams, has drawn crowds of reporters during media sessions ahead of the NFL title game.
“We wanted to inspire others. We wanted to let them know that whatever accomplishments you want to achieve, regardless of whatever obstacles you have to overcome, you can always endure,” he said about the ads.
“Just trust the power within and do what you want to do. That’s basically what I’m doing.”
Coleman, who rates his ability to hear without his hearing aids as two on a scale to 10, always enjoyed playing sports as a boy and did not take up football until he was 13.
“It was the last sport that I played. When I was younger I used to play basketball, tried soccer, tried baseball, even tried tennis. I was always a sports junkie,” he said.
His parents encouraged him.
“‘Just go out there and be you. Don’t worry about anybody else. If people start making fun of you, just walk away or tell me,’” my mom would say.
“‘You only want to surround yourself with people that want to see you succeed.
“‘The ones that don’t, and want to pull you down to their level, walk away from them. Ignore them’. It kind of stuck, because now I’m really good at ignoring things.”
Asked if anybody ever told him he could not succeed, the 6-foot, 233-pound Coleman said: “Maybe they have, but they didn’t say it to my face. Maybe they did, but I didn’t know it because I didn’t really listen to them.”
Coleman showed his grit in his first high school varsity game in Fullerton, California, bouncing back from three fumbles in the first half to score three touchdowns in the second half.
He went to college at UCLA and rushed for 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns but went undrafted in 2012.
The Vikings signed Coleman as a free agent, but he was waived in training camp. The Seahawks signed him in December 2012, making him the NFL’s first legally deaf offensive player.
Coleman is able to communicate verbally with help of hearing aids and lip reading and said he has had no trouble.
“The hardest thing about being in the deaf community is getting over wall one,” he said.
The fullback experienced a feel good moment after the NFC title game victory over San Francisco from a new fan.
Nine-year-old New Jersey girl Riley Kovalcik, who like her twin sister Erin wears hearing aids, wrote a letter to Coleman, which her father took a picture of and tweeted to the player.
“It was one of those things where she’s not asking for anything,” Coleman said.
“She’s just saying, ‘I have faith in you. You’re my inspiration.’ That touched my heart. It made me feel warm.”
Coleman wrote the girls back, telling them “even though we wear hearing aids, we can still accomplish our goals and dreams!”
“The guy’s a hero, plain and simple,” said father Jake Kovalcik.
“He’s not just a hero to my girls, but every kid out there who has struggled with something.”
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)