Amityville High School sprinter Tysheem Griffin placed first in the 200-meter race and second in the 100-meter race while representing the United States at the International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability Global Games held in Quito, Ecuador last month.
Griffin, 16, a senior, was born with Waardenburg syndrome, a rare group of genetic conditions that took most of his hearing by the time he was a toddler. At the Global Games, he turned in a 22.44-second 200 and a 10.8-second 100. Those times are competitive with Suffolk County's best, but Amityville track coach Reynolds Hawkins, who accompanied Griffin to Ecuador, said he may run faster still: "He's gotten hungrier, more determined."
Word of Griffin's wins in Ecuador spread quickly through the school on Snapchat earlier this month, junior long jumper Emmanuel Oguntoye said, and the district proudly announced the news on its website. Oguntoye, who called his teammate "somebody to look up to," valued not just for his performance but because "he cares, he asks" about how everybody else on the team is doing, said that some people were envious. Others were proud. Amityville's track and field program is acclaimed on Long Island, but this was an international stage.
Griffin hung his latest gold and silver medals on his bedroom wall. That wall is already crowded with medals from national meets, All-League and All-County awards, a varsity letter and the first gold he ever won, at Special Olympics when he was 9.
"I keep it just to remember," he said one recent afternoon. For him, that medal was a road map to victory: "Once you do it, you know it. You can do it again."
Griffin's brilliant blue eyes are characteristic of Waardenburg, but he was 5 before the condition was diagnosed, said his mother, Tanyana Evans. Teachers had called him disobedient, she said, when the truth was that he couldn't hear.
Griffin attended BOCES before transferring to Amityville High School as a freshman three years ago. He'd wanted to make the change, but it was hard to leave the familiar environment of BOCES, where his teachers accompanied him as he moved from class to class, Evans said. At BOCES it was common to see students wearing hearing aids; at Amityville High, hardly anybody does.
School is still hard, Griffin said. He worries about the work, about what the other kids think of him.
"I go slow," Griffin said. "I'm not as fast as them."
He worries if they will point out the tiny hearing aids he wears, a fear so powerful that he says it sometimes keeps him from asking questions in class even when he knows he should.
But track is different. Mastery is achievable. Griffin repeated his coach's three commandments: "Work hard. Listen. Do what you got to do." Carrying these out, he said, means that "when I go to the track, it's easy."
Out there, Griffin doesn't think twice about wearing the hearing aids "so I can hear the gun or listen to coach." Hearing loss doesn't present much of a problem except his teammates have to say "stick" a little more loudly when passing the baton during relay events.
In the glow of her son's success, Evans is considering the possibility of college next year in Florida, where Griffin has traveled before for track meets. His father, Rasheem Griffin, just wants him to "keep reaching."
For now, Griffin is preparing for the indoor track season. "God made me fast," he said. "I feel blessed to be fast."