A New Perspective From Our High School’s Newpaper

I didn’t write today’s blog post.  It is brought to you by the November 9, 2015 Edition of the Avon Eagle’s Nest, our high school’s student-written newspaper.  Reporter Alexis Dill wrote this piece about Mateo after interviewing him, our daughter Madeline, two cross country teammates and our awesome athletic director.  His story filled the entire front page! Now, Mateo never intended to inspire.  He just is who he is.  Of course, it’s true that we think he’s pretty awesome.  And, naturally, Madeline is the world’s best big sister.

Avon Athlete Overcomes Adversity, Soars Like an Eagle

When it comes to success, countless factors come into play, and periodic shortcomings are simply inevitable for most athletes. For some people, however, adversity is looked straight in the eye on a daily basis. Some let obstacles define them. Others, like Mateo Moreno, defy the odds.

Mateo, a sophomore at Avon High School, is a member of the cross country team and “sings” the National Anthem at sporting events. Still, most don’t know his full story.

Mateo was born with two disabilities, apraxia of speech and dysarthria, which work together to interfere with his capability to pronounce words and communicate thoughts properly.

Apraxia of speech is a motor speech disorder that disrupts the messages Mateo’s brain sends to his mouth. Because he is unable to move his tongue and lips in ways that will help him say what he means to, what may be complete sentences in Mateo’s head sometimes exit his mouth as gibberish to those listening. This inability to interact effectively can be extremely frustrating for him.

Dysarthria, another motor speech disorder, weakens all of Mateo’s muscles that relate to speech and adds even more complications in his life. Although Mateo has a difficult time communicating with his peers today, he used to not be able to communicate at all.

What allows Mateo to talk today is called a Dynavox device, which functions very similarly to an iPad. It has hundreds of words installed into it: basic words that came with the product and words Mrs. Moreno, his mother, programmed into it to give Mateo more impressive diction.

Mateo communicates by pressing on a word on the screen of his device; the computer says the words and sentences Mateo selects aloud for him. Over the years Mateo has become a wizard; he even mentors other kids who are just beginning to use devices of their own.

Although his device is incredibly helpful, Mateo still undergoes social complications continually. Consider the following scenarios: At a party, something comical transpires, causing the class clown to blurt out a joke; everybody laughs. In English class, the teacher presents a question; a girl raises her hand and is praised for her answer. In both situations, Mateo sits silently. His disabilities take away his capacity for communication thoughts and ideas quickly. More often than not, too much time passes before Mateo’s comments would have any relevance if expressed.

Mateo shared, “Sometimes I feel sad and frustrated because I feel left out. I wish I could talk faster, but people have to wait for me to finish saying what I want to say.”

Adversity causes some people to fall. Mateo rises. What most would consider a serious setback, Mateo uses as an opportunity to expose his inner strength and special talents. This became apparent when Mateo first joined cross country as a seventh grader. In doing so, he and his family faced an overwhelming amount of opposition. Not many believed Mateo could succeed athletically as a kid with two disabilities. Mateo didn’t listen. He fought through the negativity of others and began his high school running career two years later.

Older sister Madeline Moreno, a senior at AHS, believes Mateo has improved greatly since he first started this sport. Seventh grade Mateo was usually found in the very back of the competition. Now, as a tenth grader, Mateo can be found somewhere in the middle of the pack. Madeline says his faster times are a direct result of his improved technique; he pumps his arms more and paces himself better.

A year ago when senior runners Claire Bickley and Julia Koehler learned Mateo would be running at the high school, they welcomed him with open arms. “Running with Mateo gives me such a good feeling. [He] helps us be good teammates with positive attitudes,” Bickley said cheerfully.

Koehler built on that, saying that Mateo pushes his teammates. “Mateo teaches us that a disability can’t stop you from doing what you want to do. If you work hard and put your heart into something, it can be accomplished, no matter what obstacles you are facing.”

Although Mateo’s perseverance as a runner speaks volumes, he does more for the sports world than just run. Using his Dynavox device, Mateo sings the National Anthem before basketball games at AHS. This practice began over two years ago when Mrs. Moreno sent a message to one of Mateo’s biggest fans, athletic director Erich Frombach. Mateo had already sang at All Pro Freight Stadium, home of the Lake Erie Crushers, and Mrs. Moreno, who programmed each word, note, and beat of the National Anthem into Mateo’s device, wanted to know if having Mateo sing at AHS was something Frombach would consider.

Frombach, who approved of the idea right away, shared, “Hearing and watching Mateo sing the National Anthem at a girls basketball game for the first time was one of the best things I have experienced in my career.” The feedback Frombach has received has been nothing but positive: “Everyone thinks it is extremely neat, and when I tell them he also runs for the school, they are even more amazed.”

Mateo doesn’t plan to stop his music career with singing for just one sport; “I am very proud of my Avon football team and would love to sing the National Anthem at football games. I hope to sing at Indians games and the White House one day, as well.” A video of Mateo singing can be found on YouTube, and he has even been featured on the news, broadcasted as far away as Florida.

Mateo inspires his peers, teachers, and strangers, but no one has been impacted as much as his older sister. Madeline says she has complete confidence that she is an entirely different person because of her brother. She has dedicated her life to individuals with special needs and even volunteers at a camp for children with disabilities during the summer. Madeline told EN that without Mateo in her life, she wouldn’t have as much patience as she does or the courage to stick up for what she believes in.

One thing Madeline doesn’t believe in is pitying her younger brother. When given a kind-hearted apology for her family’s situation, Madeline will reply, “Sorry? What do you mean? Mateo is amazing!” She sees him as a person with wickedly-smart humor and courage, not a kid with an unfortunate diagnosis.

When asked what can be learned from her brother, Madeline was quick to mention his contagious optimism. “Never once has Mateo asked, ‘Why me?’ You would think he would, but that kid is tough as nails,” Madeline insisted. She added, “Mateo is a great listener, jokester, student and little brother. Also, I would really like to thank his teammates, classmates and faculty. You guys are so awesome. Everyone is so supportive of Teo; he’s never short of a cheering section.”

Throughout history sports have exposed some of the greatest aspects of humanity, and Mateo is a clear-cut example of the real beauty of athletics and of life. He serves as a model for the rest of the student body at Avon and aspiring athletes all over the nation, and every inspiration’s story deserves to be shared.

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