FARIBAULT, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s a simple fact of track and field — the sport revolves around the sound of the starting gun, governing when to go. Nothing else matters until you hear it.

Which makes things awfully tough when you’re deaf.

“I became deaf from illness when I was newborn,” said Junior Peters, a senior sprinter at Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf. “I could hear when I was born.”

Although he is deaf, Junior doesn’t lift his eyes to watch for the smoke leaving the barrel, like most deaf runners do. His ears pick up just enough of a pop to register the sound.

“I can hear a little bit,” he said.

The thing is, overcoming deafness wasn’t the hard part.

Junior was born in the west African nation of Ivory Coast. He grew up running through the jungle with his older brother.

“I always really enjoyed it, even though we didn’t really communicate,” he said. “But we would look at all the animals, the birds and bugs and all the different things.”

But Ivory Coast erupted in civil war when Junior was five. His family went on the run.

“We were in a Civil War, but I couldn’t hear that,” he said. “They heard all the noises of the Civil War, and then they got us all together, and we had to escape through the jungle to hide.”

His family fled to neighboring Liberia as refugees, but was torn apart.

“My dad and my mom then separated at that point,” he said. “And I didn’t see my mom for a long time.”

After nearly two years in Liberia, Junior and his father immigrated to America, when he was seven.

“And since then, I’ve always run,” he said. “Just kind of as an escape.”

Now, Junior is the most decorated track athlete in school history, owning the school records in the 100m, 200m, 400m, and is part of four school-record relay teams. In April he won the 200m and 400m at the annual national meet for deaf schools from across the country.

“Very proud,” he said. “Very proud of myself.”

This year he also became the first athlete from MSAD to run in the prestigious Hamline Elite Meet, which features the top track and field athletes in the state. And this week, in the section finals, he placed 5th in the 200 meters and 8th in the 400 — narrowly missing the state meet.

Keep in mind, that’s competing against hearing athletes.

“I don’t think deafness impacts his running at all,” said his coach, Steven Fuerst. “He’s got legs. He’s got arms. He’s got the body. He’s got the brain. He’s got all that it takes. Deafness doesn’t have to stop him at all. He can compete as highly as other athletes.”

Junior is driven to show that every time he takes the track.

“I want them to view me as an equal, not less than because I’m deaf. I’m just as competitive as they are,” he said. “It just fuels me. I just want to show to myself that I can beat other runners and even though I’m deaf it doesn’t matter. I’m capital D deaf, meaning I’m culturally deaf, and we can do anything that hearing people can do.

“There’s no stopping me.”

Now that he has finished his high school career, Junior will be competing for the USA Deaf Track and Field team in the Deaflympics. If you’d like to support his journey, visit here.

David McCoy

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