By Larissa Copeland,
Canton Meadows never backs down from a challenge, whether it’s on the field, in the classroom or with his family. And he refuses to let his hearing impairment slow him down.
His latest challenge? Teaching summer campers the lyrics to a Carrie Underwood song – in American Sign Language.
Meadows, 20, graduated from Yukon High School in 2016 and will soon begin his junior year at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.
Meadows started losing his hearing when he was around five years old, he said.
By fourth grade, his hearing had worsened to the point that he was considered profoundly deaf.
“I got my first pair of hearing aids in kindergarten,” Meadows said.
Despite that setback, Meadows adapted.
“People try and tell me there’s something I can’t do, but I just did what I wanted, and that’s what got me to where I am right now,” Meadows said.
That’s not to say he never felt discouraged.
“There are times I’d feel down, and ask why I had to be the one who’s deaf,” he said. “But another way to look at it is I was the one chosen to be deaf. Not only to help myself throughout my life, but to help others by being a role model and someone others look up to.”
He wants to be a teacher and coach.
“I like to work with kids,” Meadows said.
And Meadows has always been involved with teaching others, whether it was helping with his dad’s Little League football teams, coaching football or wrestling, or assisting with sports camps. But it wasn’t until his senior year of high school, when he was selected to help mentor three younger Yukon students with hearing impairments, that he realized what path he wanted to take.
“They asked if I would be willing to work with kids who are hard of hearing, and I thought, ‘Yeah, that would be fun,’” Meadows said.
Meadows worked with two fourth-grade girls and a boy in kindergarten, he said, spending at least an hour a day with them.
“Working with them, it changed their lives, and I know for sure it changed mine,” Meadows said. “The teaching part really clicked with me. And the coaching was always there, too; I always wanted to be a coach. I think that’s something that kind of stuck with me.”
In addition to helping with homework and teaching the kids the ASL that he knew, Meadows said he also stressed the importance of rising above challenges.
One girl, who struggled with needing hearing aids, also needed to realize that her hearing impairment didn’t make her different.
“I told her, ‘You need hearing aids to hear just like someone needs glasses to see. It doesn’t make you any different than someone who needs glasses,” Meadows said. “I tried to teach them how to handle themselves – if you hold themselves above what’s trying to keep you down low, then you’ll succeed. I enjoyed seeing her rise up.”
That same year, Meadows also started Yukon High School’s first ASL club. At the end of his senior year, the club, along with the three children he mentored, traveled to the state Capitol to perform a song in sign language.
“These little kids were right up front, performing a song in front of probably close to a thousand people,” Meadows said.
After graduation, Meadows went on to Gallaudet, a school for the deaf and hearing-impaired.
In his freshman and sophomore years, he played as a fullback for the football team, and now he’s taking on a coaching role for his remaining two years in the school.
Even over the summer, Meadows can’t get away from teaching. He spends his mornings at Yukon High School, teaching children in the Yukon Community Education program how to sign.
Meadows said his ultimate lesson for his students is to believe in themselves.
“I want them to go out and chase their dreams,” he said. “But I want them to know, too, that they have to put in the work.”