Deaf Seahawks player inspires young girls with hearing loss

SEATTLE -- As 9-year old twins, Erin and Riley Kovalcik will tell you they love sports, finding time to squeeze in softball, lacrosse, soccer, and basketball. Their favorite sport these days, however, may be the one they spend more time watching than playing: professional football.

You can thank Derrick Coleman for that.

Coleman, a fullback for the Seattle Seahawks, plays 3,000 miles away from the Kovalciks' hometown of Roxbury, NJ, but has two new fans in the third grade athletes. That's because they all share something in common: hearing aids.

The Kovalciks are among the millions who've watched a commercial starring Coleman based on his life story. Early on, Coleman's hearing aids were a problem - unable to fit inside his helmet or work quite right - but he persevered, teaching himself to read lips. He now plays for the Seahawks - and even scored a touchdown during a Monday Night Football game against the New Orleans Saints.

Riley - who has been wearing hearing aids since she was a year old - saw the commercial and wrote a letter to Coleman, which her father tweeted on Tuesday.

"I know how you feel. I also have hearing aids. Just try your best," reads the letter written on notebook paper. "I have faif [sic] in you Derrick."

Hundreds of people retweeted the letter from as far away as Australia.

"It was inspiring because it was so exciting that a football player - such as Derrick Coleman - actually has hearing loss and he can actually play," Riley said in a Skype interview. "I almost wasn't allowed (to play sports) because they were afraid I was going to hit my head and they were afraid that I would lose my hearing."

"But yeah, it seemed to work out pretty well," chimed in her sister, Erin, who also wears a hearing aid in one ear.

By Wednesday, Riley's letter had caught the attention of thousands of people online, including Coleman himself, who penned a letter back.

"Really was great hearing from a fan who I have so much in common with," Coleman writes. "I appreciate you rooting for the Seahawks and me and hope you continue to do so when we play in the Super Bowl!"

Before practice Wednesday, Coleman added that Riley's letter and story remain an inspiration.

"I just want to say thanks," Coleman said, as he spoke to reporters before an afternoon practice. "It's great to know that she's just sending a letter saying thanks, saying she had faith in me. She's making me feel welcome. Normally I'm out there trying to have other people do that, but she's out there helping me out, so it kind of goes both ways."

Riley's father added that the attention has meant the world to his daughters.

"From the time that they were little, we did everything we could to make sure they were treated exactly like normal kids. It's only a handicap if you make it one," Jake Kovalcik said. "As Derrick has shown, it's a little bit of something you have to overcome, but hard work, determination gets you everything you want."

The girls hope to meet their newfound idol when the team travels to New Jersey for the Super Bowl next week. The Kovalciks live about 40 minutes away from MetLife Stadium, where the game will be held.

"Thank you for getting me this far and inspiring me to write all this letters and stuff like that," Riley said.

"And good luck at the Super Bowl!" added Erin.