EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Maybe the emotional moment will come when Rashod Hill slips on his cleats in the locker room, or perhaps it will happen sometime during a break in the action.
But at some point during Minnesota’s home game against Miami, the Vikings offensive tackle will surely look down at his feet and take a moment to reflect about the people closest to him and how important they are.
Hill will honor his 3-year-old daughter, Codie, who has partial hearing loss, by sporting purple and black cleats that recognize The Starkey Hearing Foundation. Hill’s footwear, which has “The Gift of Hearing” inscribed in silver letters, are a part of the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative.
“It’s emotional a little bit, but at the same time [I also feel] pride and strong that I can wear them to bring awareness to hearing loss,” Hill said. “To bring attention to that, it’s going to be a blessing to have them on my feet.
“It’s amazing the NFL does that because it’s gives guys a chance to bring awareness to stuff they believe and they care about. You know more about a guy when he brings stuff like that out,” Hill added about the “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign. “It gives me an opportunity to bring awareness to this. People are dealing with different things … whatever I can do to help bring awareness to this, I’m all in for it.”
Codie was born to Rashod and Tara in May of 2015, but was roughly a month premature. It didn’t take doctors long to suspect something was amiss regarding Codie’s hearing, as test results showed she had profound hearing loss in both of her ears.
“She was diagnosed when she was a baby in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit),” Tara Hill said. “[Her hearing loss] went from mild to moderate to severe.”
The Hills said their first reaction was one of denial.
“The first sign was that they did some tests and found she couldn’t hear anything,” Rashod said. “As a parent, the first thing you think is, ‘No, my child can hear. She’s just like everybody else.’
“But once we realized that was the problem, my first instinct was, ‘Come on, let’s jump on this now.’ That way in the future she can be like everybody else,” he added.
Codie wore hearing aids for six months as an infant, but they had little effect, so she was given a cochlear implant for her right side.
That’s the setup Codie had lived with until a week in late November, when the Hills visited the campus of Starkey Hearing Technologies in Eden Prairie and had a life-changing day.
Codie received VIP treatment from Starkey Owner and CEO Bill Austin and his staff, as they cleaned out her ears, gave her a hearing test and took an impression of her left ear.
Starkey then made a custom left hearing aid for Codie in less than an hour, with the hope that device will combine with the right cochlear implant and boost her overall hearing.
“Codie, at her age, she’s not familiar with sound and doesn’t respond well to testing,” Austin said. “We’re trying to put some energy load into her inner ear and see what her reaction is to that input she’s getting.”
Rashod said he was awestruck by the kindness and humility of the Starkey staff.
“We didn’t know we were going to meet the CEO of this place,” he said with a laugh. “That was amazing, and it was a blessing. It was humbling.”
Vikings Rashod Hill recognizes The Starkey Hearing Foundation in support of the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative in honor of his 3-year-old daughter who has partial hearing loss.
Austin, who founded Starkey in 1970, said one of the greatest joys of his job is helping young people improve their ability to hear.
“Working with young children, they have a whole lifetime ahead of them,” Austin said. “It’s so important for them, but hearing is important for everyone. If you’re not connected to your family, you’re not connected to life. You need to be connected to your social environment and people … nobody should be punished [for bad hearing]; they haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Just like if you don’t see so good, you need some glasses. If you don’t hear so good, and you can fix it, it should be fixed,” Austin added. “It makes more of a difference than almost anyone realizes. If you look at hearing loss, people adapt to it and put it off, and they start accepting it as normal. It shouldn’t be that way.”
The hearing aid in Codie’s left ear appeared to work right away, as she looked around in wonder knowing that she was hearing something on her left side.
A few days after the visit, Hill said that Codie was responding well to the device. Codie will also return to Starkey in a few weeks for a checkup.
“It’s helped. I called her name … I said, ‘Codie,’ … and she looked at me,” Hill said. “It’s making a real difference. She’s making sure it stays in. She likes it in and is getting adjusted to it.”
It hasn’t always been easy for the Hill family to deal with Codie’s hearing loss. Both Rashod and Tara mentioned how they have had to gain a sense of understanding about their daughter, such as tapping her to get her attention rather than simply saying her name.
“The thing it taught me is being patient. She can’t [hear] like everybody else, but at the same time, I’m not going to let that hinder her,” Hill said. “I still treat her like my 8-year-old. The main thing is just being patient.”
Added Tara: “Patience is key.”
Because of her hearing loss, Codie also has a limited vocabulary and works with a speech therapist because she hasn’t been able to learn and decipher verbal language.
But the spunky 3-year-old with a quick smile is on the right path thanks to Austin and the Starkey staff, as well as a set of parents who now want to explore opportunities to give back to other families in similar situations.
“We want to get a chance to talk to different families who are just now getting to the process and getting into the situation,” Tara said. “In the beginning, it was in denial for us.
“For some families, it’s hard to accept something you cannot control,” she added. “One of our biggest things is talking to the families who are dealing with the same issue.”
Added Hill: “We definitely want to [give back] because this impacts our lives. We want to see how we can help more and learn more from it.”
The Vikings offensive tackle will start by wearing his custom cleats to support his little girl.
Hill saw the cleats for the first time at Starkey with his family sitting beside him, a wide smile crossing his face. After admiring them for a few seconds, Codie reached for them and looked on with curiosity.
“It’s been a journey, and I’m pretty sure there’s still going to be a lot more to go,” Hill said. “But we love her and give her everything she needs.
“It gives us hope. We know she can overcome this,” Hill added with Codie nearby. “We’re just keeping a positive mind. But I wake up every day smiling to see her because she’s my baby.”
Starkey Hearing Foundation gives the gift of hearing to people in need in the U.S. and around the world. Disabling hearing loss affects more than 466 million people, including 34 million children, yet many do not have access to the hearing devices that improve lives and promote understanding. Since origination, Starkey Hearing Foundation has provided more than 1.1 million hearing health care services to patients. Starkey Hearing Foundation focuses on hearing health missions, hearing loss education and hearing aid recycling.