When Prince George sophomore Javonte’ Harding is running a race, he hears two things — the starting gun and his coach, Will Stevens.
Harding, a region champion sprinter, suffers from bilateral hearing loss. But he said it actually provides him an advantage on the track.
In order for Harding to hear something, he has to focus intently on it. This allows him to have a sort of selective hearing. He can drown out the noise from fans and competitors and concentrate only on running and listening to Stevens motivate him.
“I can ignore more sounds, and I don’t have to worry about people throwing me off before I run,” said Harding, whose running form is smooth and looks effortless.
Harding says his condition mostly affects his ability to hear high frequencies. He also has trouble hearing whispers — they just feel like air blowing in his ear, he said — and his ears sometimes throb painfully when he’s in noisy environments such as a football game.
Doctors diagnosed the condition when he was in elementary school and he was given hearing aids. When Harding showed up to school wearing his aids, his classmates bombarded him with questions. What are they? How do they work? Why do you have them?
As a result, he elected not to use them to avoid the unwanted attention, and he still doesn’t today.
Harding says his reasoning for electing to live without his hearing aids has changed as he’s matured. It’s no longer about what his classmates might say, but instead he’s fueled by a desire to prove that he doesn’t need them to succeed. He’s learning to read lips, he sits in a specific seat in the classroom and he earns As and Bs.
“He doesn’t want to be looked at any different than anybody else,” Stevens said. “I have no off-the-track issues. … Just a good kid.”
Harding’s hearing loss is hereditary, as his mother, Roxanne Harding, suffers from the same condition and wears hearing aids. She said she encourages him to wear his aids, but isn’t too concerned because it hasn’t affected him academically.
Lucky for Harding, speed also runs in the family. His father, Wayne Harding, ran track in high school and played defensive back at Virginia State University. Roxanne competed briefly as a sprinter for the Trojans. His brother, Dajuan, is a sprinter at North Carolina A&T and was a region champion for Prince George in 2014.
The Royals have an impressive sprinting pedigree as well, and Harding has taken full advantage of it. Keith Brown and Tarik Samuel, both seniors last year, won the 5A state title in the 100-meter relay and are now running for Division I schools.
Harding wasn’t a fan of practice until this year, his mother said. It was those who came before him, such as Brown and Samuel, who motivated him to want to work hard. Harding wants to be the fastest runner Prince George has ever had.
No signs point to Harding’s hearing loss getting worse over time, his mother said. But his times on the track will get better, his coach said. Stevens expects unprecedented speed from Harding.
“He’ll be the fastest I’ve ever coached,” Stevens said.
After winning Class 5, Region B titles in the 100 and 200, the next step for Harding is the Class 5 state championship meet Saturday at Todd Stadium in Newport News. He enters with the top seed time in the 100 (10.65) and the second best in the 200 (21.41). He will also anchor the Royals’ 100-meter relay team.