Neither fans shouting nor the pounding footsteps of runners coming up behind him bother him, and his teammates use a variety of ways to get his attention during a cross country race — but not their voices.

Stevens is legally deaf, but he makes himself heard through his determination and hard work as a valuable member of the Winthrop High School boys’ cross country team.

The 15-year-old sophomore runner proudly works around his disability, and won’t allow hearing loss to prevent him from enjoying sports — or life.

“I say he’s a grinder,” Winthrop coach Ed Van Tassel said. “He’s pretty fast, but he’s just tough. He can put up with pain that a lot other kids can’t. He doesn’t have the best form in the world, but it is coming along. But it is just that work ethic. He’s going outwork the person next to him.”

Stevens wears a cochlear implant, but he removes it during competitions because the device can be hard on his ear drums.

“To be honest, when I take my ear off this year, I am not afraid or scared to run with a fast runner,” Stevens said. “So I have a little bit of confidence.”

It takes a great deal of courage for Stevens to run in a competition where communication often plays a role in winning the team event. Cross country runners often speak with each other during a race to give teammates a heads-up about the competition on the trails.

“I take my ear off and I don’t hear anything at all,” Stevens said. “The most important thing in my life before I start the race is, at first, I pray and ask God to help me to win and help my team to win, and God had done good to me.”

“I usually tap him or pat him on the back or something, try to communicate with him in other ways than talking,” teammate and close friend Jacob Hickey said. “I think all of us have found other ways to communicate with him (on the course).

And of course, there’s Stevens’ sheer determination to win each race, and his motivation and dedication are inspirations to his teammates.

“He is very competitive, he loves working hard,” Hickey said. “He’s a great kid and he is a great runner.

“I have known him since last year. We started running together and he is a really good kid.”

Hickey appreciates Stevens’ diligence and his strong will not to allow his disability to hold him back in life.

“He even wants to work harder and motivates them even more,” Hickey said. “He is always looking at the next guy above him and saying, ‘I want to beat him.’”

Van Tassel uses words like, “hard worker,”and “highly motivated” to describe the Ramblers runner.

“He has such a desire to get better,” Van Tassel said. “So we a lot talk about past kids that have gone through the program. Since his freshman year, he’s like, ‘What did Ben Allen run as a freshman? What about Danny Sullivan? What about the greats of the program? What did they run as freshmen?’ And that was his goal.

“The other day, he realized the fastest kid in the state is a sophomore, which is the same grade as Jesse. So he’s like, ‘That’s my goal.’”

Van Tassel said Stevens is an inspiration to the team and admires the athlete for being a competitor despite his hearing loss.

“He is just a determined kid,” Van Tassel said. “He sets his goals and he knows what he wants to accomplish. It is definitely a handicap for him, but I don’t think he allows it to be a handicap. I think he just pushes through it. He gets to run scared. He not hearing someone coming, so at the end of the race, he is just going. It’s like someone’s always chasing him.

“Everyone is definitely supportive of him. It is easy to support him because he is the hardest working kid, no doubt.”

With support from his teammates, coach and perhaps help from above, Stevens, who also runs track and loves basketball, won’t allow a disability to keep him from going the distance on a cross country trail. When he’s given a “go” at the starting line, Stevens is off, and running hard.

“I continue to run harder and I am getting better, so I try to run the same pace,” Stevens said. “I listen to my coach and he’s helped me a lot, so that’s how I become a good runner.

“This year, I came in top 10, so I did help my team out. I love to compete with others because I like to win all the time. It has really inspired me. I am excited to run with other fast runners. Some day in the future, I would like to beat them, and that’s my goal.”


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