TROY, Ala. – Nearly seven months after making his first visit to Troy as a member of the Oklahoma State University football team, Martel Van Zant will make a return visit to Troy University in April. This time, however, he won’t be facing off against the Trojans’ football team in Movie Gallery Veterans Stadium.
Instead, Van Zant, deaf since birth, will be sharing his inspirational life story through his interpreter Allie Lee at the University’s 13th annual Helen Keller Lecture, set for 10 a.m. on April 8 in the Claudia Crosby Theater on the Troy Campus. There is no admission charge and the lecture is open to the public.
The Helen Keller lecture is designed to promote awareness of people who excel in their chosen fields despite physical and/or mental limitations. The lecture is sponsored by Troy University, and co-sponsored by the Alabama Department of Education, the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, the Helen Keller Foundation for Research and Education, the Janice Capilouto Center for the Deaf/Easter Seals and the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.
“We are excited to host Martel Van Zant as he is an inspiration to many,” said Dr. Candace Howard-Shaughnessy, lecture committee chair and interim chair of the TROY Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion. “He proves that anything is possible.”
Van Zant, a 22-year-old Texas native, was born without ear drums after his mother contracted chicken pox during her pregnancy. Never letting his deafness slow him down, Van Zant has attended regular schools since the second grade.
A standout cornerback at Lee High School in Tyler, Texas, Van Zant chose to play his collegiate football at Oklahoma State, turning down scholarship offers from Texas A&M, Colorado, Southern Methodist, Texas Christian and Arizona.
It was when he arrived at Oklahoma State that his friendship with his interpreter Allie Lee began. Lee, a lifelong Oklahoma State fan who is proficient in sign language, volunteered his services as an interpreter and eventually landed a contract with the university to provide interpreter services throughout Van Zant’s collegiate career.
Van Zant played in eight games as a freshman and eventually worked his way into the starting line-up near the end of his sophomore season. During his junior year with the Cowboys in 2006, he started every game and finished fourth on the squad in tackles.
Van Zant suffered a dislocated ankle tendon, cutting short his senior season, but he hopes to have the opportunity to play in the National Football League.