Meet Shalai and Shalmare Wade
Shalai and Shalmare Wade are energetic, intelligent, athletic siblings who play nearly every sport offered at Kansas City’s Northeast High School and attend classes at Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts.
“So what?” You say. Well, they’re also the kids who had backflipping contests at recess in grade school—the kids the teachers couldn’t stop.
“I used to do like 30 backflips in a row,” Shalmare said. “Shalai and I would compete to see who could do the most. The teacher was like, ‘How do we make them stop?’”
And they’re the kids who have channeled that same backflipping energy into playing varsity sports. Shalai, a 17-year-old senior, is a stand-out volleyball and basketball player for the Northeast Vikings. Shalmare, 15 and a sophomore, excels at football, basketball and track, and is hoping to play baseball in the spring as well.
But these siblings also share a unique challenge—both were born deaf. Plus, Shalmare lost the vision in his right eye at age 6.
Do they let that stop them though? “No,” Shalmare said. “We’re just like everyone else.”
Turning disabilities into abilities
Mom Taiwanna Kinney has two older normal-hearing children, but when Shalai was born, she noticed her baby wasn’t saying words like “momma” or “dada,” when the other kids did.
“I took Shalai for a check-up at Children’s Mercy, and they referred us to the ENT Clinic and Speech and Hearing,” Taiwanna said. “They tested her hearing and diagnosed her as deaf.”
When Shalmare was born, Taiwanna noticed he didn’t seem to be hitting his developmental milestones for speech and hearing either.
“I took him to Children’s Mercy and found out he was deaf, too. They thought it was hereditary,” she said. But Taiwanna never treated her children differently.
“Even though I knew they couldn’t hear me, I always talked to my kids like they could,” Taiwanna said. “Shalai and Shalmare are the most-gifted, magnificent kids who are hearing impaired that I have ever seen in my life. If I didn’t tell you they were deaf, you probably wouldn’t know.”
And Shalmare has another challenge without the vision in his right eye.
“We were at a family barbecue in the park, and I was climbing a tree,” he said. “I fell and a stick hit me in the eye. I’ve had four surgeries in that eye, but nothing has worked to bring my vision back. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m never going to see out of that eye again.”
But that hasn’t stopped him either.
Shalmare and Shalai have excelled at all they do. They’ve turned disabilities into abilities.
Interpreting in the classroom AND the locker room
To be sure they can meet the communication challenges they face, interpreters accompany Shalai and Shalmare throughout their day, in the classroom, at practices, on the court and on the field.
The Kansas City Missouri Public School District has 17 deaf language interpreters who work with 35 deaf students throughout the day.
The relationships between the interpreters and students are critical to their success, and Shalmare says they do a wonderful job.
“I feel like I am on a level playing field with the other students,” Shalmare said. “All the interpreters are cool.”
With Shalai and Shalmare both playing sports at such a competitive level, they’re also at risk for injury, just like any other student-athlete. That’s where Eric Piatchek, MS, LAT, ATC, athletic trainer with Children’s Mercy Sports Medicine comes in.
Eric is a certified, licensed athletic trainer who is based at Northeast High School. His primary concern is the optimal health of the student-athletes. He’s present at games and practices to ensure all student-athletes are safer, and when someone gets injured, he evaluates the injury, and refers the student on for specialty care if needed.
Eric communicates with the siblings just like he would with any other student-athlete, but an interpreter is always on hand to facilitate their conversations.
Shalai has worked with Eric recently following an injury to her left knee at an away game. “I received a text from the coach about Shalai,” Eric said. “I assessed her knee and I’ve given her some stretches and exercises to do that should help. I also ice her knee when it’s really bothering her.”
“I feel like it’s grinding on the inside,” Shalai said. “Exercises and ice have helped, but it’s still bothering me, so I have an appointment to see a sports medicine specialist at Children’s Mercy.”
Eric also has helped Shalmare deal with a recent injury to his wrist. “I was going out for a pass during practice, and another player’s facemask hit the bone on top of my wrist.”
In addition to wrapping Shalmare’s wrist, Eric referred him for an X-ray to see if the bone was broken. “It wasn’t broken, I just had a bone bruise,” Shalmare said. “I didn’t realize that bone could hurt so much.”
Because he plays both receiver and defensive back, Shalmare is on the football field almost the entire game, and also has been dealing with chronic leg cramps. “Eric gave me a list of foods to eat, like bananas. And I drink pickle juice. It works! No more cramps,” Shalmare said.
With basketball season just around the corner, Shalai and Shalmare are both gearing up to play. Shalmare describes his sister as really fast. “She’s tiny, but she’s a fighter,” he said.
Shalmare is right. Just 4’11” tall, Shalai plays point guard and shooting guard on the Vikings, and she’s been invited to join the U.S.A. National Deaf Olympics basketball team this summer in Canada.
“I love stealing the ball,” she said. “My short-term goal is to be able to play with the Deaf Olympics team.”
At 5’ 10” tall, Shalmare’s goal is to be able to slam dunk that basketball this season.
“My coach asked, ‘Are you willing to do the work to make that happen?’” Shalmare said. “I said yeah, so he put a 40-lb. dumbbell in each hand and had me jump onto a 3-foot high box from a standing position. Today, I finally dunked!”
Now a senior, Shalai spends her mornings at Gladstone Elementary School teaching sign language to other deaf children in collaboration with Manual Career and Technical School. In the afternoons, she goes to Paseo where her major is dance. After graduation, she wants to attend Johnson County Community College and continue playing sports.
Though only a sophomore, Shalmare hopes he’ll get a scholarship to play basketball or football in college. In the classroom, he’s focused on his studies, his friends and his future.
“I stay positive. I don’t mind being deaf, I don’t mind losing the vision in my right eye,” Shalmare said. “I’m a smart guy. I have good grades. I’m at the top of my class.”
The siblings have lots of support from one another, friends, family, teachers, coaches, interpreters and their mother.
“Shalai and I are close. Close. I mean forever,” Shalmare said.
Shalai just grins from ear to ear when asked about Shalmare. “Sometimes we argue at home. He’s always bothering me, but I really love him. We have fun together.”
Taiwanna said the siblings have a very, very special bond. “They’re close. I raised them to stick together, to look out for one another.”
But having Eric on the sidelines is an extra level of protection she’s also thankful for.
“Children’s Mercy has done a wonderful job of helping me keep Shalai and Shalmare healthy,” she said. “They’ve been there for us since they were babies, but they’re strong now. They have turned pain into power. They’re not afraid. They’re determined and I’m proud of them.”
Learn more about the Sports Medicine Center at Children's Mercy