Cowboys Football Player That Started Out With Track And Field A Deafly Inspiring Story

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A Deafly Inspiring Story

College football is a field where many inspirational stories unfold and touch hearts. It is a place where the passion of the players, the enthusiasm of the fans, the desires of the coaches and the expectations of the community all create a unique atmosphere. Games are fan packed. Teams are considered home teams. Clashes between players and scuffles with helmets. Marching bands pay tribute to their teams. 40000 plus fans are loud and serious. Amidst all this commotion and noise, what Martel Van Zant hears is his heartbeat. His story is inspiring.

Van Zant is deaf, having been born without an eardrum after his mother contracted chicken pox while pregnant. He can feel the vibrations from the screaming crowd and the hits, but he can’t hear the referee’s whistle and has to use his eyes to confirm the play is over. Growing up in Tyler, Texas, Van Zant grew up like any other school kid. His parents did not treat him differently. They also kept the same hopes on him. Van Zant attended a regular high school and thrived in his community. The root of this success was the inspirational story of sports.

Raised in a sporting community, and with four brothers to play, athletics was a way of life for the Van Zant family. Martel made great strides in this area. Through sports, he leveled the playing field and distanced himself from his classmates. He initially started playing soccer. He also tried basketball and track. He excelled in all of these, but these games did not give him a great sense of fulfillment. In eighth grade, he was introduced to American football. He learned the game and compensated for his hearing loss by watching the ball. His focus on the ball combined with his natural athleticism made him a good defensive player. The more he played, the more he realized he could use football to leverage his education and inspirational story.

By the time he finished his career at Lee High, he had 21 interceptions and was named to the Texas Top 100 Prospects list, drawing attention from Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma State, SMU, TCU and Texas A&M. His ability caught the attention of former OSU coach Les Miles. Other coaches were hesitant about selecting him, but Miles took a chance on Van Zant with some basic sign language skills and signed him to OSU. The rest of this inspirational story is history as you can tell.

How can a deaf football player bridge the gap in the high speed of American football? Thankfully, Van Zant has the help of Allie Lee, his interpreter of sorts. Lee himself is an inspiring story. He commutes 132 miles from Oklahoma City to Stillwater every day, attending classes, team meetings, practices and games with Van Zant. If playing Division IA football is Van Zant’s dream, becoming a part of the Cowboys family is just as exciting for Lee.

He doesn’t like to call himself a “deaf athlete,” but Van Zant has seen the way it inspires others. He has received letters from deaf children and seen the excitement in their eyes when they approach him, an example of never giving up on their own dreams and aspirations. All of them are inspiring stories to write.

“I’m a role model for these young deaf people that they can do it too,” Van Zant said. “It motivates them to get more involved in their interests and go to college and follow the same steps and work as I did.”

His triumph is not lost on people outside the deaf community. He has been nominated for the FexEx Orange Bowl FWAA Courage Award, which honors players/coaches who have demonstrated courage, whether on or off the field, overcoming injury or physical disability, avoiding disaster or surviving adversity. Van Zant’s mother summed up Martel’s inspirational story best, “I truly believe that God does things for a reason,” she said. “He doesn’t put anything on us beyond what we can bear. I never doubted that he would do the things he’s doing now. That’s just my faith.”

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