Par­tially deaf shot-put­ter sends loud, clear mes­sage in Roanoke and be­yond

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - LOCAL PERSPECTIVES - BY ROBERT AN­DER­SON

ROANOKE — Mi­da­jah Davis won­dered what on earth her track and field coach was do­ing.

The Pa­trick Henry High School ju­nior was at re­cent prac­tice when head coach Jeff John­son lightly poked her stom­ach and be­gan trac­ing con­cen­tric cir­cles on the T-shirt cov­er­ing her mid­sec­tion.

Each one smaller than the next.

Bull’s-eye?

Ex­actly.

In­deed, Davis wore a tar­get dur­ing the first week­end in June as the

No. 1-ranked girl in the shot-put at the VHSL Class 5 state meet in New­port News. So John­son, a for­mer head foot­ball coach at Pa­trick Henry, wanted to re­mind Davis that be­com­ing the first shot-put state cham­pion in the school’s his­tory will not be easy. This was the mes­sage: “Do you think these other kids are mess­ing around?

“They’re work­ing hard. You need to be work­ing ‘hard-er.’ They’re com­ing af­ter you.”

Funny thing, John­son said, his ploy prob­a­bly was un­nec­es­sary when it comes to the pow­er­ful PH ath­lete.

“She’s fo­cused,” the coach said. “She gets very up­set when she doesn’t do well. I don’t have to [mo­ti­vate] like I do with some of them, prod and goad all the time. She’s self-mo­ti­vated. She lis­tens very well.”

She lis­tens, but does not quite hear.

Davis was born in 2001 with a hear­ing dis­abil­ity. She is not to­tally deaf and she speaks clearly, but the 17-year-old re­quires as­sis­tance from a trained in­ter­preter from Roanoke City Pub­lic Schools in the class­room, and dur­ing track and field prac­tices and meets.

“I don’t hear you, but I feel the vi­bra­tions,” she said. “When I get older, it’s go­ing to get worse. Ev­ery day, my ears ring, ev­ery sin­gle day, non­stop.”

Davis’ in­ter­preters pro­vide in­valu­able help, but her av­er­age school day is far from easy, es­pe­cially since she is a first-year stu­dent at PH af­ter trans­fer­ring from Hid­den Val­ley High School.

“It’s re­ally dif­fi­cult,” she said. “Some of the teach­ers, they like to turn their heads and talk to the board. Some­times, I have to raise my hand and say, ‘Can you please face the class so I can un­der­stand you.’ I get frus­trated a lot.”

Stu­dents un­fa­mil­iar with Davis’ con­di­tion have mis­un­der­stood when she doesn’t re­spond to their whis­pers in class.

Davis has pow­er­ful shoul­ders, but they aren’t cold.

“They think I’m ig­nor­ing them,” she said. “Af­ter class, I’ll tell them, ‘I’m sorry, I can­not hear you, but what are you say­ing? We can talk face to face.’”

She has trained her­self to read lips and body lan­guage. When no in­ter­preter is present, her clos­est friends look Davis in the eyes when they speak.

“When I’m out with my friends, they know to talk to me face to face and that I can read lips very well,” she said. “I trust them to be my ears.”

Davis does not wear hear­ing aids. She once did, but she dis­cov­ered that some as­pects of her young life were eas­ier with­out a ca­coph­ony of back­ground noise she some­times would rather tune out.

“I used to have hear­ing aids, but I stopped wear­ing them be­cause I’m tired of be­ing in the hear­ing world,” Davis said. “The hear­ing world is too com­pli­cated. I like my deaf world. It’s more quiet and sim­ple.”

Davis showed up at Pa­trick Henry in the fall unan­nounced to John­son af­ter trans­fer­ring from Hid­den Val­ley, where she placed sec­ond in the 2017 Group 3A state meet with a throw of 40 feet, 3½ inches.

Davis ini­tially joined the Pa­tri­ots’ girls bas­ket­ball team, but she left the squad at mid­sea­son and joined PH’s in­door track team in Jan­uary.

She placed fifth for Pa­trick Henry in the Class 5 in­door meet.

This spring, Davis’ best throw is 41 feet, 1 inch.

“We heard we were get­ting a trans­fer in the fall and she threw in the high 30s or 40s,” John­son said. “I said, ‘Well, I never saw her.’ They said, ‘Oh, she’s le­git.’ We got her a lit­tle bit at the end of in­door. She cer­tainly is le­git.”

Stand­ing 5 feet, 4 inches, Davis is shorter than most of her ri­vals.

She com­pen­sates with a strong up­per body.

“She’s not real tall, but she is very ex­plo­sive,” he said.

A high school track and field team is com­posed of sprint­ers, dis­tance run­ners, jumpers, pole vaulters, hur­dlers and throw­ers. Dur­ing prac­tices, the head coach is spread thin.

Vet­eran as­sis­tant coach and long­time John­son as­so­ciate Tommy Jones works pri­mar­ily with Davis, as Hid­den Val­ley as­sis­tant Josh Hor­ton did dur­ing her first two years in high school. Also present at ev­ery prac­tice and nearly ev­ery meet is Jeanie Carl, who has spent the past two decades as in­ter­preter in the Roanoke City Schools sys­tem.

Carl first worked with Davis when the PH ath­lete at­tended Vir­ginia Heights El­e­men­tary School.

Now, the two are nearly in­sep­a­ra­ble.

“She’s a de­light­ful kid,” Carl said. “She’s pretty hard on her­self when she doesn’t do well, but she’s fun to be around.”

Jones, who is a for­mer head coach at Franklin County, gives Carl credit for the de­vel­op­ment of Davis, who placed sixth in the state meet.

“I value it,” he said. “I call her an as­sis­tant coach.”

STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS/THE ROANOKE TIMES

Pa­trick Henry High ju­nior Mi­da­jah Davis is par­tially deaf. She placed sixth in the shot-put at the Class 5 state meet.

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