Partially deaf shot-putter sends loud, clear message in Roanoke and beyond
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.
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.”
Patrick Henry High junior Midajah Davis is partially deaf. She placed sixth in the shot-put at the Class 5 state meet.