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Deaf Seattle Seahawks running back Derrick Coleman inspires special needs children

Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman speaks to the media

Seahawks fullback Derrick Coleman speaks to the media during Super Bowl XLVIII Media Day at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

The term “role model” is too often used in pro sports, but if ever a pro athlete fit the bill, it might be Derrick Coleman.

The Seattle Seahawks running back, whose moving story was the subject of a Duracell ad (see the video below) viewed more than 19 million times on YouTube, has become an Internet sensation for being the first deaf NFL player to play in the Super Bowl.

Although he keeps a relatively low profile on the Seahawks, Coleman became a rallying point for deaf children and their parents (of which I am one) with his story, which includes tales of having to tape his hearing aids to his head underneath his football helmet as a child. Deaf schools and organizations posted touching videos like this one wishing him luck.

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Coleman, 23, gave them plenty of reason to cheer him on. When Rilery Kovalcik, a 9-year-old girl with hearing loss from New Jersey, wrote Coleman to tell him, “Just try your best. I have faif in you,” Coleman replied with a handwritten letter of his own, telling her he had faith in her as well.

“Even though we wear hearing aids, we can still accomplish our goals and dreams,” wrote Coleman, who later surprised Riley and her twin sister Erin with Super Bowl tickets. Leading up to the big game, #40 also raised money to buy a deaf 10-year-old fan a special football helmet to accommodate his cochlear implant, and handed out hearing aids recently at Yankee Stadium.

And when the Seahawks coasted to victory on Sunday night, thousands of American households who have never followed football, much less rooted for the Seahawks, had reason to celebrate.

"Derrick Coleman has been able to show that his deafness has not defined him nor limited him," said Fran Bogdanoff, superintendent of the Mill Neck School for the Deaf.

My thoughts immediately turned to Coleman’s parents, whose early anguish raising him — as depicted in the Duracell ad — must have been dwarfed by the pride they felt watching their son celebrate his Super Bowl victory. It gave me something to look forward to.

It’s one thing for parents and educators to tell special needs children that they can achieve the highest of heights. It’s another to show them an example of someone who actually did.

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