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From Childhood Slavery to College Football

Cas Mastropaolo | Gallaudet Football

Where I come from, things are different.

When you’re born in a place like Haiti, life is much different than what most American kids experience.  I have many brothers and sisters, and we were about as poor as you could ever imagine being. My biological parents couldn’t really take care of all of us, so my brother Emmanuel ended up having to take care of me and he did the best he could.  But somehow, and I don’t remember exactly how, I became a child slave. I was too young at the time to really understand what was happening to me. All I knew was that I was going through starvation, homelessness, and extreme poverty.

The Haiti experience was full of challenging and dark moments every day.  For six years I suffered from a sickness that nobody seemed to care about, and it caused a lot of harm to my body. 

Apart from that, my ability to learn and understand was different because I never went to school.  I think I might have been physically bigger if I would have had better nutrition in those six years in my early life. One thing that I do know is that my breathing has never been the best due to suffering from what I now know was tuberculosis.  There was a lot of sickness, and not a lot of hope.

But my life changed when a missionary from America bought me- yes, bought me- for a mere $60, and I came to this country. I was sick, malnourished, and had no understanding of the English language, and even still, I carried a problem that I didn’t even know I had.  

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With all of the sickness and neglect in my early childhood, I came to find out that my hearing is not very good in my right ear. I didn’t even notice it when I lived in Haiti, but my family here in America figured it out and helped me get hearing aids.  I mostly use them just for school. But even then, I started to understand that my hearing issues were going to be a problem. Learning about and adapting to life in my new country was very difficult. I did not speak any English, or even have any idea of how to just be a kid. Since I had never experienced any schooling, academics were very hard. Now, imagine trying to learn and having a hearing problem as well.  It was the biggest adversity I had to face in school after my life in Haiti and it required me to put in extra time, more than other kids my age.

I started playing flag football when I was in kindergarten, and it changed to tackle football starting in fifth grade. I fell in love with the sport and it gave me a lot of purpose.  I also started making friends because I was on a team; my best memories were my middle school years where I started playing serious football and running track. Even though my problems with hearing made it more challenging for me, I always kept a positive attitude. 

I had big goals for high school, but some of those goals were not accomplished sadly due to coaches not believing in my ability no matter how hard I worked. Some people back in my hometown also didn’t think I would succeed because of my hearing loss and ADHD. But my parents and family always had faith in me, whether it was a positive or negative situation. They realized that I was going to have many challenges in life, but that didn’t stop them from doing what was best to help me out. 

And I think that’s why my life is such a joy. People need someone to believe in them, and I have those people with the family that changed my life. 

Another person that changed my life is Mannamed EJ, who is a sports trainer at Nexxt Level Fitness.  When he came into my life, I started creating a bond with him, and he became more than just a trainer and a business owner to me. He changed what I thought about my abilities and helped me create a daily routine over the summer after graduating from high school that prepared me to play college football for Gallaudet University. I go to Nexxt Level after almost every practice to lift, box, run, and stretch with EJ. My dream is to someday play in the NFL. Not because I want a lot of fame and fortune, but because I want to give back to Haiti.  

One more thing I want you to know about me- I’ve learned sign language, and I have found that the deaf community has been very supportive no matter what I am going through. It’s yet another challenge because being a new signer means I have to catch up with experienced signers. I grew up around people who were able to hear, so I’ve only communicated with my voice.

I doubt most of you reading this have had to go through many of the things I’ve experienced in my life. Every day, I have to ask questions multiple times until I finally understand something, or just do things differently.  But I can either be embarrassed about asking the questions, or I can get the answer and make my life so much better. Maybe you have to come from nothing, like I did, to understand why learning and working hard are so important in life. I really wish I could have started life with an easier path, but that’s not the hand I was dealt.  

So, I would like to ask those of you who are reading this- do you feel like you are doing everything you can to become a better student, a better athlete, or at least appreciate all that you have?  I think if you are really honest with yourself, you will find that your answer will either make you very proud, or make you realize that maybe you need to make some changes in your life. I’m here to tell you that it is really worth it.  

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