When Naquay Little is speeding down the track with the wind rushing against his face, it’s as if he has slipped the bonds of Earth, leaving his disability in the dust.
The senior, who has been deaf since birth, has never heard the roar of the crowd or the rap-tap-tap of his shoes as he glides along the track, but that has never slowed him down. Little has worked his way into becoming one of the top sprinters in West Virginia and will be one of the favorites in the sprints this weekend at the 79th Gazette Relays at Laidley Field.
“Running is my joy,’’ said Little through Jean Lowe, his sign-language interpreter, during a break in practice Monday evening at Laidley. “Oh, I feel energized. I love to win. It makes me feel fantastic. I’m just like the other boys.
“I’ve never heard the crowd so it doesn’t matter. It’s never bothered me. I look up sometimes and I’ll see them waving for me. I enjoy that. I have a goal and try not to worry about what else is around me. I’m thinking, ‘What am I going to do? How am I going to do this? What did Coach tell me to do?’ I’m always thinking about where’s the finish line and how can I get there faster.’’
Little competed in soccer and track in middle school and has played basketball and track at Capital.
“This is my best sport,’’ he said of track. “It’s easy for me to do. Ever since I was little I always could run. Just running makes me feel good. If it’s raining, snowing I don’t care. It makes me feel I don’t have to think about anything but running.’’
The 5-foot-9 Little is undefeated in the 100 meters this season and turned in a season-best 11.46 seconds Friday at the Capital City Classic, which ranks in the top 10 in Class AAA according to runwv.com. Little, who also runs the 200, is part of the 4x100 relay that has the state’s sixth-best clocking (45.19). He also runs the 4x200 relay.
“He’s one of the captains,’’ said Capital coach Willie Ruffin, whose boys team was seventh in the latest rankings. “He’s been consistent, loyal and honest. That’s what makes you captain, to be depended on and kids look up to you. They follow him as far as a role model.
“He’s been out here four years and he’s been doing everything. He comes out serious and is all business as soon as he hits the track ready to run. That’s always been our motto, if you touch the track you’re ready to run. He’s worked at it. He’s come a long way. He’s paid his dues. It comes with experience. We’ve had some good sprinters to push him now it’s his turn.’’
Ruffin said Little’s hearing impairment hasn’t been a barrier.
“It’s really an example that everybody has an opportunity to be whatever they want to be,’’ said the Cougars coach. “He’s adapted over the years working with the other kids. When he warms up he [runs the opposite direction on the track] so they can see him so he can move to the side.’’
Ruffin, just like any other coach, is always trying to push Little to do more.
“I wish his time would drop,’’ smiled the Capital coach. “He’s running just enough to win. I’d like to see him be pressed. He understands he can accelerate and come back any time.
“He uses that to his advantage to surge ahead of people. He needs to surge and stay out there. He’s more of a warm-weather runner. It’s been kind of damp and he’s gone through the motions basically.’’
Little has already been accepted at Gallaudet University and plans on running varsity track. Gallaudet, located in Washington, D.C., and founded in 1864, is the world’s leader in education and career development for the deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
“I want to be an educator,’’ said Little through Lowe. “I want to be a coach for the deaf and teach track and get more deaf students to run and be more involved in sports at the high school level.’’
Little’s improvement this season has also been aided by a new starting pistol that officials have been using this season at Laidley. The pistol flashes a light as well as going off with a crack so Little can come out of the blocks with the other competitors.
“We’ve been asking for it since he started in sixth grade,’’ said Lowe, who has been with Little for 14 years. “It’s a light so I don’t have to start him. Everyone else was on the gun and it really was to his disadvantage. That’s what he’s just so excited about. And he still thinks they’re doing it wrong. [The track officials are] shooting it upward and he still has to look up.’’
Lowe said Little is a little anxious about the new starting system when regionals roll around.
“They don’t know if it’s been approved so he might have to go back to watching me or the smoke from the gun,’’ said the sign-language interpreter. “He’s upset about that.’’
There’s little doubt Little will overcome that, too.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4811.