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Bobsledder mom awaits twin son’s miracle

TURIN, Italy (BP)–Training to win an Olympic gold medal is tough. Just ask bobsledder Vonetta Flowers.

After failing in her attempts to make the Olympics as a track and field athlete, Flowers instead turned to bobsledding, where she won gold in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

But such training did little to prepare Flowers and her husband Johnny with another trial they would soon face -– one of their twin sons, Jorden, was born deaf.

“I think I am mentally tough, but there are some times when I break down and I cry,” Flowers said in a recent USA Today story. “To think about Jorden and certain things he is really trying to tell me…. It’s difficult at times.”

In late December, 3-year-old Jordan underwent an experimental procedure in Italy. Dr. Vittorio Colletti is the only surgeon in the world to perform the procedure, which places a device called an auditory brainstem implant into the brainstem.

In an interview with Baptist Press, Flowers provided an update on Jorden’s status, as well as her thoughts on dealing with a deaf son, balancing family and career and competing in the Olympics.

BP: What’s the latest on Jorden’s status? How did the procedure go?

FLOWERS: After three years of waiting for a miracle, we finally got what we had been waiting for. On Jan. 23, the entire family arrived at the hospital in Verona with faith, high hopes and great anticipation. Preparing for this day had been somewhat of a challenge and sometimes frustrating, but we believed that Jorden would finally have a chance to hear what he’s been missing.

We have been working with Dr. Colletti and his staff in Verona, Italy, for the past year and hoped that we finally reached the point where we could finally exhale. We really hoped that when the device was turned on that Jorden’s eyes would tell the story and his body language would confirm that he could hear the sounds around him. Having him respond to sound and seeing a big smile on his face was the Kleenex moment that we imagined and hoped to be able to share with everyone that has followed his story.

In this case we discovered that Jorden’s journey did not end on the 23rd with fireworks, confetti and an upbeat theme song. Instead we learned that the responses that we seek will be told in the next chapter of his life. Dr. Colletti was and has been very optimistic about Jorden’s chances of hearing and responding to the sounds around him.

After the activation he explained that Jorden, as it relates to his hearing, is an infant. He helped us manage our expectations and our emotions so that we didn’t leave there disappointed. He knew that we wanted to pull out the Kleenex and cry happy tears for Jorden, but those tears would have to wait. The reality began to set in for us when he explained that the progress would be slow and his success will depend upon his relationship with the speech therapist in Birmingham, Ala.

The family will continue to train our minds and bodies so that we can prepare for moments that only come around once or twice in a lifetime. More importantly, we will fight to have this procedure approved for children under 12 in the United States and also create a foundation (I Can Hear You Now) that will help others who are battling the same issues.

In the meantime we will keep a box of Kleenex handy and place the tears on hold. It may take a few days, a few weeks or a few months, but when it happens you may not hear the theme song for Barney or fireworks across the sky, but just know that somewhere, somehow, someday Jorden will eventually tell us, “I can hear you now.”

BP: What’s been the most trying part of having a son who can’t hear?

FLOWERS: We were fortunate that we knew that Jorden had a hearing loss at birth. Some families don’t find out that their child has a hearing problem for months and years. Having this information allowed us to be proactive. We immediately found an audiologist and began taking sign language classes as a family. Because we started sign language at an early age, Jorden was able to communicate all of his needs and we were able to speak to him in a language that he understood.”

BP: How has your faith in God sustained your during this time?

FLOWERS: Our faith is tested on a daily basis. We continue to trust in God that he will allow Jorden not only to hear, but to speak as well. We have no other choice, but to trust in God and believe that He will answer our prayers. Even though the process has taken longer than what we would have liked, we are learning to be patient while He prepares us for another miracle.

My faith has helped me to understand that I’m here to serve a purpose. Growing up I dreamed of competing in the Olympics so that I could fulfill a personal dream, but now I realize that my success was given to me so that I can share it with others. I hope that I can inspire people to believe that anything is possible if they put their faith in God.

As a mom I have been faced with many challenges. My sons were born two and a half months prematurely and because of this one of them suffered from a severe hearing loss. Jorden has been deaf since birth and this has proven to be one the greatest challenges that I’ve ever faced.

BP: What’s the bigger challenge — training to win a gold medal or dealing with a son who’s deaf?

FLOWERS: I have been training my body to compete at a high level for over 20 years. I love how I feel after I’m done training because I know that this prepares me for competition … which I love. Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can prepare you for dealing with a child with a disability. I believe God gives special children to special people. He knew the problems that Jorden would face, how he would overcome them and how his life would be an example to people across the globe. I’m honored that God trusted us to help Jorden reach his potential.

BP: How do you balance your life as a wife and mother with being a world-class athlete?

My husband, Johnny, is the main reason why I’m able to continue my career. After the 2002 Winter Olympics, Johnny left his job where he worked as a manager for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama for nearly five years and began coaching me fulltime. He not only serves as my husband/coach, he also helps manage the business side of the sport, which gives me more time to focus on training.

Johnny graduated with a degree in marketing from the University of Alabama-Birmingham, therefore his knowledge has helped us better prepare for opportunities. Besides being a great husband/coach/business manager -– he also is a great father. There is no way that I could continue to train at such a high level without his support.

BP: Are there any specific Scripture passages that have meant a lot to you as an athlete and as a wife and mother?

FLOWERS: Psalm 118:8: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”

Psalm 75: 6-7: “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: He putteth down one, and setteth up another.”
Vonetta Flowers’ autobiography, “Running on Ice,” from the New Hope Publishers division of Woman’s Missionary Union, can be ordered through Christian bookstores.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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