Day-after congratulations to UK linebacker Terry Clayton, who yesterday won the first-ever Rudy Award, which honors the college football player who best displays character, courage, contribution and commitment to his program, as exemplified by Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, of Notre Dame and movie fame.
Read more about the award here:
Also, here’s a column I did on Clayton during the football season. If you missed it then (11/14/07) Clayton’s story is definitely worth a few minutes of your time.
Cats’ Clayton lost his hearing, not his courage
This football season has produced some of the loudest moments in University of Kentucky history. Now listen through the deaf ears of senior linebacker Terry Clayton:
“When the crowd gets loud, like when the ‘Blue-White’ cheer is going in the stadium, I can feel vibration in my body,” said Clayton, who lost his hearing after a bout with chickenpox. “I can feel it more on the sideline than when I’m on the field because I’m more stationary. It fires me up.”
Clayton’s story should fire up the rest of us.
Think about playing football without being able to hear the whistle or relying on lip-reading or hand signals to communicate.
The obstacles to Clayton playing football are so numerous and fundamental that it’s a wonder anyone would even try.
An inspiring walk-on
Clayton is a wonder. He doesn’t get into games at his linebacker spot much anymore. He’s mainly used on kickoff coverage. But his presence as a walk-on at UK for five years has meant more than that.
Clayton was 5 years old watching television in the family’s Olmstead, Ky., home when somebody turned off the volume on his world.
“I remember one day I was watching TV and couldn’t hear anything,” Clayton said. “My mother called me, and I couldn’t hear her. When I realized I couldn’t hear, I was very confused and scared. I couldn’t understand what was going on.”
These days, they use different adjectives to describe Clayton.
“Inspiring,” coach Rich Brooks said. “Determined,” said his mother, Betty Sydnor. “Courageous,” says the Football Writers Association of America, which has made him a finalist for its Courage Award.
Jacob Tamme, who accompanied Clayton on a visit to the Kentucky School for the Deaf last year, had another word. One of the most popular players on UK’s team, Tamme found himself in Clayton’s shadow.
“He’s a hero at that school,” Tamme said.
Technological advances gave Clayton a great gift two years ago. He got his hearing back, in a way, thanks to new hearing aids that he can wear anytime except when he is playing football — because of the sensitivity of the aids.
“It was wonderful to hear sounds again,” he said. “I could hear birds whistle again, and an ambulance siren from two blocks over. I hear conversations fairly well, and I still read lips out of habit. I still have a sign-language interpreter in classes because I can’t always understand the professor.
“Hearing feels normal, like it did before I got the chickenpox. I wish I could wear them (hearing aids) on the field.”
Brooks said that communication is the main reason Clayton doesn’t play more, but that “he has worked his fanny off, and our players have enjoyed being around him. He’s a great guy, and they, I think, are inspired by what he’s done.”
Hearing his mother’s voice
When I asked him what he missed most after losing his hearing, Clayton said: “I missed my mother’s voice, although I could still remember it in my head. Years later, I was so happy to be able to hear her again.”
Betty Sydnor was only 16 when her son was born, only 21 when he lost his hearing. If there’s a courage award for moms, she ought to get one. She stopped up her own ears to see what her son’s world was like, put in his hearing aids to listen. The two developed their own sign language. And hers was the voice he heard even when he heard nothing else, even when others were saying he couldn’t do things like play college football.
“He asked me, ‘Mama, could you see me at UK?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I could see you anywhere. You can do anything,’ ” she said.
It was a message her son received loud and clear, even without his hearing