Cox finds unexpected friendship after hearing loss

Tony Deaver: “Brayden doesn’t run across too many people in day-to-day life that can communicate with him on that level.”
Missouri Tigers sophomore wrestler J’den Cox and his 7-year-old friend Brayden Deaver play together following the Mid-American Conference Championships on Sunday, March 8, 2015, at Hearnes Center in Columbia, Mo.

He’s restless, draped on the railing and squirming every which way. His small body can easily fit in the crawl space between the metal rung and his seat, so he puts himself there. He looks up to his father as if to ask when the match will be over.

Brayden Deaver wants to see his friend.

Sophomore J’den Cox, meanwhile, is center stage, wrapping up a 3-1 decision against Ohio’s Phil Wellington. The victory will give him a second consecutive conference championship and a No. 1 seed that will put him on the fast track to winning a second consecutive NCAA Championship.

While Cox, whose robust 197-pound frame exudes machismo, is ostensibly very different from 7-year-old, fair-haired Brayden, the two have quite a lot in common. Both play bass guitar. Both like to dye their hair. Both know sign language. And after the confetti settled and the crowd funneled out, both shared the Hearnes Center floor as they tumbled around in a playful heap.

Tony Deaver, Brayden’s father, looked on from the stands.

“We just sit back and let them have their time,” Tony said. “They’ve got a great connection.”

Brayden, who has a penchant for strongmen, discovered Cox through the Internet while Cox was wrestling at Hickman High School in Columbia. His dad said he’s watched hours of Cox’s YouTube videos, as well as clips of the wrestling team’s workouts.

These videos captivated Brayden because he wants to grow up to be a wrestler like Cox. When Tony heard Cox would be signing autographs at their local Hy-Vee, he took Brayden to meet his hero.

Brayden didn’t even know at the time that Cox lived in Columbia, and when he met his idol in person, he was starstruck.

Then Brayden found out Cox knew sign language.

“Brayden doesn’t run across too many people in day-to-day life that can communicate with him on that level,” Tony said. “J’den is a national champion, and it’s pretty cool to let our son know that he can achieve the same thing, that he’s not different than everybody.”

Cox started to lose his hearing when he was 18. He began having dizzy spells, and only then did his mother tell him that his father was fully deaf in his left ear and that he might have a congenital condition.

When Cox explained his situation to his high school coach, J.D. Coffman, he didn’t believe him. Coffman snapped his fingers behind Cox’s ear as a test. When Cox didn’t respond, the coach apologized.

“He was like, ‘Dude, you were telling the truth,’” Cox said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve never lied to you.”

When he went to the hospital, Cox was told that he had already lost 35 percent of his hearing in his left ear. The treatment available only worked half the time, and Cox wasn’t one of the lucky ones. But he wasn’t discouraged. Instead, he enrolled in sign language classes.

Cox said he isn’t angry about going partially deaf, but grateful.

“I can’t complain, because all of the things that have come from it have been so amazing,” Cox said. “I’ve gotten to experience a whole different world. There’s nothing wrong, there’s just more to be explored, more to be done, more to see.”

Cox said he’s appreciative of all the people who have offered a helping hand as he adjusts to his hearing loss. He said his deafness hasn’t negatively affected his performance on the mat because his teammates, senior Devin Mellon and redshirt freshman Willie Miklus, have been his ears in practice. Whenever Missouri coach Brian Smith gives a direction and Cox doesn’t hear it, Mellon or Miklus fills him in.

But he said one of the best things that has happened to him since losing his hearing is getting to know Brayden. Cox said that despite their difference in age, Brayden is one of his best friends.

“That kid’s got a piece of my heart,” Cox said. “I want to give him everything he needs to be as successful as he wants to be.”

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