Not hearing any of it
LUVERNE -- In less than two weeks, 2013 Luverne High School graduate and multi-sport athlete Alex Weis will turn 19. A few short weeks later he will start his first semester of college at Southwest Minnesota State University and continue his athletic career at the college level.
Weis' 19th birthday will also mark the 17th year since he was diagnosed with hearing loss that has affected both his athletic and personal life through the years.
"I was diagnosed when I was 2 years old," Weis said. "My parents just thought I was hard of hearing because I wouldn't respond to certain things, so they took me to the doctor where I was diagnosed with bilateral sensorineural profound hearing loss. That is when I first got my hearing aid. Since then, my hearing has gotten a little worse, but the technology has also gotten a lot better, too. So I can hear pretty well now."
Being diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss means a person's inner ear or the nerve pathway from the inner ear to the brain has been damaged and cannot be medically or surgically repaired. It is one of the most common types of permanent hearing loss and reduces a person's ability to hear faint sounds and may also make normal or loud speech seem unclear or muffled.
In Alex's case, without the help of his hearing aids, he can hear less than 10 percent of the things said around him. However, when he is wearing his hearing aid, his hearing is up to 70 or 80 percent.
"An average human can hear around 115 percent; for me, with my hearing aids, I can hear from 70 to 80 percent," Weis said. "But without my hearing aids, I can hear less than 10 percent. So, I'm practically completely deaf without them."
In spite of his disability, Alex's parents got him started with team sports at a young age in order to keep him healthy and active. He credits his parents for inspiring him to keep playing sports even when it got hard or frustrating.
"The first thing my parents wanted to do was get me active outside, get me active in sports and get me trying out for everything," Weis said. "I did wrestling and other stuff, too, when I was younger. But then I just started to find the games I enjoyed playing, which include football, baseball and basketball. My parents are what inspired me to keep playing and going out for sports."
Won't be slowed down
With his hearing disability, Alex could have given up on sports the first time he became frustrated by his inability to hear. But 17 years later, he is still playing sports and doesn't show any signs of giving up any time soon.
"First off, I am not going to let my hearing slow me down," Weis said. "That is just a little hurdle to jump in my life. I've had many amazing people around me to make me feel welcome and that has helped a lot. As I get older I want to promote sports amongst the youth in the community because it is a lot of fun and is a great way to get to know more people. It also is a way to get outside and stop playing so many video games."
Throughout his life, Weis has played almost every sport he could, including everything from wrestling to baseball as well as football and basketball. And even though his hearing may affect his ability to communicate, it does not affect his natural ability to play sports.
"My hearing doesn't have a lot of effect on my ability to play sports, but it does affect my ability to communicate," Weis said. "At football games it can get a little loud for me to hear. But we use hand signals to help me as well as using more visual aids to help me during the games."
However, in the middle of a game, some things are easier for Weis to understand than others.
"In basketball, we use hand signals as well, but it doesn't help that much on defense," Weis said. "Some times they would yell 'screen,' but I don't always hear screen, so I get a little off then. Football and basketball are really the two sports that I have problems with the most. In track, you don't really need much in the way of communication skills."
And when it comes to sports, Weis believes that there is no such thing as doing things halfway. Because of that belief, he has worked harder and harder every year to become the best athlete he can.
"I have a strong belief in working hard and making sure I'm preparing for the sports I play," he said. "I am always working hard in every sport."
Even though Weis has loved playing pretty much every sport he has ever tried, football holds a special place in his heart because of his bloodline.
"My favorite sport is football; it is in my blood," he said. "My dad played in high school and my grandpa played up through college where he played for the Gophers. My great-grandpa made it to the NFL where he played for a while. I have been educated in football all my life by my dad and my grandpa."
During his senior season of football, Weis suffered a few injuries that limited his playing time at the end of the season, but he was able to come back to help the Cardinals to the Section 3AA high school football championship game at Southwest Minnesota State University's Mattke Field. Weis was injured during the game, but played through the whole game in an attempt to propel the Cardinals to the state tournament.
"The last game of the season against Jackson was a tough game for me," he said. "We got off to a really good start, but unfortunately we weren't able to finish them off. In the game, I sprained my knee in the first half and I also broke my left hand in the third quarter. But I taped them both up and kept playing through the pain. That was really painful, but I didn't want to quit in my final game, so I just kept playing."
The Jackson County Central Huskies ended up winning the game, 35-28.
This last season, Weis was selected to play defensive end, as well as punt, in the Minnesota High School All-Star Football Game at St. Cloud State University as part of Team South. He had a sack and two tackles in the game on defense and also punted twice for an average of 45 yards to help lead Team South to a 24-14 win.
"It was a once in a lifetime experience," said Weis, who was one of only two players from the Southwest Conference to be chosen to participate in the game, the other being Marshall offensive lineman Alex Werner. "I had a lot of fun and met a lot of guys. It was an amazing time. I played a good game we won."
Weis also qualified for the state track and field meet for the second year in a row during his senior year. He competed in the discus, the shot put and the 4X100.
"The first day I didn't do so well in the shot put, but the second day we took fifth in the 4X100," he said. "We lost second place by just six-hundredths of a second, so it was a really close race. I thought we had it. Overall, it was a lot of fun. It is great to get to compete against the best in the state."
Next stop: SMSU
Weis signed a letter of intent to continue his track and field career at SMSU earlier this summer and plans on giving football a shot as well.
"I wanted to go to a small school particularly because I think for me to do well academically, I need to be in smaller classrooms, be on a small campus, and I felt like SMSU was a good fit for that," said the multi-sport prep star. "They have nice facilities and a good sports program as well. It also isn't too far from home.
"This will also be the first year that the track program is starting up there again, so it'll be fun to take part in the first year. But I want to keep playing football, too."
Heading into his first semester of college, Weis has yet to declare a major because he wants to explore his options.
"I am kind of leaning toward a teaching or business major, though. But I want to see what is out there first before I declare for sure," he said.
The guiding force behind Alex's push to excel in sports on all levels have been his dad and grandpa, who put a football in his hands the day he was born and helped him get into sports at a young age.
"My dad and grandpa have all been here when they were younger and going to college," Weis said. "So they told me what it takes to do well in high school and college. My motivation in sports is to be one of the best players out there, but to also be a team player and help out in whatever way I can to win games."
Another key to Weis' success, both in school and in sports, is the large network of people who have been around him his whole life to support him and help him through tough times.
"My family, my friends, my coaches and my friends have all helped me," he explailned. "They taught me how to maintain a strong faith and made sure I did well in school. I was fortunate to be able to do all of that. They have motivated me to become the person I am today.
"I would like to thank my parents, Tony and Tasha Weis, my grandpa Jim Hensley, my good friend Matt Arends, and all my family, friends, coaches, teachers, and the community for all of their support throughout my life."
This summer, Weis has been playing on a deaf softball team which will be traveling to Maryland next week to take part in an all-deaf national softball tournament.
"During a basketball game last summer, a ref who happened to be hard of hearing got me hooked up with the CSD Blue Sox," Weis said. "I played in a league with them this summer every Monday night. We played Faribault in the regionals which we won and are now going to the nationals.
"That was a lot of fun. That was my first time that I played softball, since I didn't want to get hurt during my senior year."
"It was definitely an honor to play with other people who have similar hearing difficulties that I do," Weis said. "It is totally different for me, because usually I am surrounded with hearing people, and all of a sudden I go to a group of people who don't talk much and always sign. I know some signs, but I am not very good at signing myself. It is a lot of fun to play with them and is a wonderful experience."