2011 Rare Disease Champion Finalist
2011 Rare Disease Champion Finalist

Derrick Coleman – UCLA

Derrick Coleman’s mom was concerned when his speech wasn’t progressing. She was right to be concerned since it was determined that Derrick was almost completely deaf. A missing gene was to blame. As a result, Derrick was fitted for hearing aids.

“I was a shy kid,” Derrick explains. “I wasn’t very outgoing.”

Derrick started to dabble in sports, but was met with skepticism by some coaches who wondered how he could hear the plays and follow directions.

“The toughest part really was keeping the hearing aids in and the sweat out,” Coleman says.

He realized that a sweatband in basketball did the trick and he wears a skull cap for football. Only a handful of times has he had a problem and only when he’s hit directly in the helmet have his hearing aids fallen out.

His lack of hearing hasn’t hindered Coleman in the least little bit. He was UCLA’s second leading rusher this past season as a junior. Coleman has to pay close attention to the quarterback and reads lips.

“Everyone knows I have to be right in front of him in the huddle,” Coleman says. “I try to interact with my quarterback a lot so I can learn his speech patterns.”

Lining up behind the quarterback, he can’t always hear the count, but says his motto is ‘don’t move until he moves.’ Coleman says when he was a kid, he used to be embarrassed by the hearing aids. Now he embraces it.

“No one is perfect,” he says. “Some people wear glasses because their vision isn’t perfect. I wear hearing aids.”

Coleman knows he can be a role model and ever since his sophomore year of high school, he’s spoken to groups about the challenges he’s faced.

“My message is ‘there’s no excuse as to why they can’t succeed,’” Coleman says. “If I can do it, they too can do it.”

In fact, Coleman is convinced that he’s a better athlete because of his hearing loss. He says he’s had to work twice as hard to get to where he is. His story serves as an inspiration to his peers - he just hopes they are listening.

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