As I was walking throughout the IKF Kids Tournament this past Saturday taking
photos of the students, I was stopped by one of the Instructors that was working
in one of the rings. He told me he wanted me to watch this student do her kata
in the competition. Normally, I get a few of these requests often when I am taking
images for our website. So I asked the Instructor for some background on the student
so I will know what I am looking at and looking for. As I stated before, these requests
are common. But this student has a special story. This students name is Annie.
Annie is 8 years old. She is currently a yellow belt with a stripe. Annie
trains under Mr. Ronnie Nichols, at Cahaba Heights Elementary. To this point, Annie
sounds like a normal student, competing in the tournament. What the Instructor
told me next, made me take notice. Annie is a deaf mute. Let me tell you Annie's
Annie was diagnosed with Herpes Simplex Encephalitis when she was 13 months old. Annie came to live her grandparents...Jeff and Cathie McWhirter, when she was 21 months old. Her father is Jeff and Cathie's and is in the military as an active full time duty member. Due to his military status there was and is no way that he could arrange the time to manage the therapies and special needs that Annie has so it was decided this would be the best for Annie. Annie calls Cathie "Ma" and Jeff "Da". Then there is Aunt Holly (who everyone thinks is Annie's mother since they look so much alike), Aunt Holly's husband..Uncle Jeff and little boy..Eli, Annie's cousin. Aunt Holly helps alot by filling in Cathie and Jeff and goes to just about everything in which Annie is involved.
There are no clear answers as to how Annie contracted this infection. She was hospitalized for 5 weeks. At the time of her release from the hospital, tests had clearly shown brain damage had taken its' toile due to this illness. Annie could no longer speak and she had developed Cortical Deafness. Cortical Deafness is when the brain doesn't translate what is heard....the ears work but the brain doesn't. The area of the brain that processes "language" was destroyed. There was a small hope that the function of this area of the brain would switch to another area but the area it should switch to had also been damaged so this has never happened. Annie also has problems with memory..she will learn or know something but then loose it and we have to start over again. She has a seizure disorder due to the illness, as well. Another area that has been affected is in the realm of social skills but this is improving...she is learning how to manage some of the things that run so parallel to mild Autism even though she is not Autistic; she has some of the same markers. There is a whole list of things that could have been affected due to this brain damage, but luckily as to this date, there is no evidence that she will be faced with these challenges, although some of these things might present as she matures.
Annie communicates through sign language...American Sign Language in English word order. This is also a challenge for Annie since the language center of her brain is so damaged. At times, even though she recognizes the "signs" she doesn't understand the "language" so things have to be rephrased. It has taken Cathie and Jeff a long while to begin to fully understand the differences with Annie...There are things that we all take for granted and never give a second thought to...it causes one to really think about so many things we just accept daily as normal development. In all appearances Annie appears so "normal", noone realizes some of the issues with which Annie is faced. Cathie doesn't believe Annie realizes she is "different" although she is a little shy about "signing" in front of others. Cathie says she is fortunate that Annie has a strong will, determination, and constitution about herself. Sometimes this is a little challenging with an 8 year old but this is something she will need as she gets older.
As I was filming Annie going through her kata, I then realized, Annie is a special person. Annie was then asked to show everone the katas with Mr. Nichols, her Instructor. By this time, I had gotten some more info about Annie. As I watched her go through these katas, Annie won a spot in my heart. In reading what Annie has went through in 8 years, and seeing her determination, made me sit and realize I have nothing to complain about. Annie has endeared more in 8 years than most of us will encounter in our lifetime, and she is still going, whithout a single complaint.
Before karate, Annie tried soft ball as an activity but that didn't pan out too well. Not everyone, children and adults alike, were very accepting of Annie's difference. So, when IKF came to Cahaba Heights Elementary Cathie talked with the group of fine folks handling the registration and was assured Annie would be welcomed with open arms.... and indeed, she has been. Ron Nichols has managed to win Annie over and she has full trust and confidence in him. It is quite a feat that this man has been able to enter Annie's heart. She has loved every minute of her "karate time". She has gained confidence. Her balance and coordination have improved. It is something she can do and enjoy. Cathie has always felt Annie should be treated just as any other child..same rules and boundaries..and she has been. The only thing different is Annie takes her Deaf Ed/Special Ed teacher and part time interpreter to karate with her. Cathie is so grateful this has worked out for Annie. "We, as a family from the bottom of our hearts, will always be so grateful to everyone in IKF." says Cathie, "Our experience has been that the Nichol's family, as well as others involved with IKF, truly know how to accept and to open their hearts to others...an attribute not easily or readily found and we thank them....they have truly helped one little girl (and her family) to be the best and happiest she can be...she is allowed to "fit in" and be like everyone else. We are blessed to have Annie and IKF".
From time to time, we all get these e-mails telling a heartwarming story about people and how they have overcome adversity, but never seen these people. We usually read the email, delete it and acknowledge that it was a good story. I won't send this story in an e-mail to everybody in address book. Annie is too special for that. Annie will be eched in my heart and my mind well beyond my days as webmaster are over. There are a select few instances and people that will make a profound impression on a person. Annie is that person. Annie's determination goes beyond karate. Annie has the determination to live, to overcome her setbacks, make the best of a bad situation. I think, no I know, we all can learn a life lesson from Annie.
Thank you Annie, for my life lesson. You have a fan here in the webmaster.
Watch Annie Do Zen Shin Ko Tai At The Kid's Tournament.
A Special thanks goes to Cathie McWhirter and Holly McWhirter for the information to make this article possible. This article is the sole opinion of the Webmaster, with permission from Mrs. McWhirter to print the abvove information concerning Annie. All remarks should be directed at the Webmaster , for I take full responsibility for this aricle.
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