Mei Deavers sprints across the soccer field, back and forth, trying to help his team win.
“When I’m playing soccer I just feel really fast with the wind in my face,” he said.
His prosthetic legs leave their mark on him after practices and games.
“If he could show you his legs after he takes his prosthetics off, after he’s played, they are beat up and bruised and calloused and bleeding in places, because those prosthetics constantly rub his legs,” said his mom, Shannon Deavers. “So he has blisters and sores, and yet he plays through that pain.”
Mei says there is some pain.
“It doesn’t hurt all the time, but if I run too much on it, it will start hurting a little more,” he said.
Deavers, who is on the Madison County 12-and-under soccer all star team, is known for his tenacious effort.
His all star coach, Billy Neal, said you forget Deavers has any physical issues, because the 12 year old is such a hard worker on the field, scoring goals and helping his team fight to win. He says Deavers “has a great spirit about him.”
“I’m curious to watch when other teams see him,” said Neal. “Do they underestimate him and think they need to be soft? Because he’s got some good footwork and I think that surprises people.”
Deavers is the son of Tracey and Shannon Deavers, who have eight children, including four they adopted from China.
Shannon explains that Tracey was on a mission trip in China as a campus pastor in Cochran when he met 1-year-old Mei in an orphanage and “just fell in love with him.”
“He got home from the mission trip and we had talked about adoption prior to that and he said, ‘What do you think about adopting?’” said Shannon. “We had four healthy kids at the time and didn’t really know anybody who had adopted from China and definitely didn’t know anyone who had adopted special needs kids. But we felt like that was what we were supposed to do. So we adopted him.”
Mei, who met his new family when he was 2. She said that if Mei remained in the Chinese orphanage, his outlook would have been bleak.
“We were told that had he remained in China, the orphanage is so packed and the staff is so little, he would have gotten to the place where he was bedridden,” she said. “He wouldn’t have been able to walk on the feet he was born with.”
Mei had feet when he was adopted, but he was born with a fibular deficiency in both legs.
“He was missing that fibular bone that holds your legs straight,” said Shannon. “And after we got home and consulted a couple of different hospitals, we made the decision to have his feet amputated.”
She said having the amputations and being fitted with prosthetics gave Mei more opportunity to be active.
“Had the amputation not happened, he would have been bound to a bed,” she said. “And so bringing him home and giving him the opportunity to have good medical care and having his feet amputated allowed him to be as much of a normal little boy as he could be.”
Shannon said Mei loves to play video games and Legos and to talk with his friends.
“There’s a lot of things he can do that you wouldn’t expect him to be able to do,” she said. “We’ve just always raised him to not really have any differences to push him to do everything he can do independently. And he’s completely independent now. He’s an amazing kid.”
Shannon said she and her husband were told Mei wouldn’t be able to compete with able-bodied kids, but Mei proved everyone wrong.
“He knows he has differences, but he doesn’t at the same time,” she said. “He wants to be a normal kid and play ball with his friends. And so we’ve always put him in those programs and just let him see what he can do. We’re hoping that God is using that to inspire other kids to not give up, to keep trying, to fight.”
Shannon said Mei does seem to inspire others. She recalled watching how players and coaches from Jackson County responded to seeing him on the field and “busting his tail.”
“I know the coach from Jackson County talked to him after the game and gave him a lot of encouragement, told him what an inspiration he was and what a platform he would have one day,” she said.
Mei said he’s just having fun.
“I don’t usually think when I play,” he said. “I just like playing. It feels good to be outside and play with other people, especially in this pandemic.”
Mei said he has dreamed of playing big-time soccer.
“I wanted to play major soccer,” he said. “I did want to play baseball when I was little, but I figured baseball didn’t work for me. So I found a sport I could use with my legs. And soccer worked out best. And so I chose soccer and did it one year and I liked it.”
Madison County Recreation Department Director Shelley Parham said Mei is indeed an inspiration.
“He has always shown his dedication to the sport and his teammates,” she said. “He has never let anything slow him down or hold him back. He is an inspiration to everyone showing that you can do anything you set your mind to.”
Parham said she is also proud of the Madison County 12-and-under soccer team, the first from Madison County to participate in soccer all stars. Two Georgia Recreation Department Association District 7 teams traveled to Thomasville this past weekend to compete in the state tournament. Madison County fell 5-0 in the first round to the eventual champion, Bainbridge, but the Madison County team recently defeated the City of Jefferson, 5-1, in the in a state play-in game to earn a first-round bye.
“I am very pleased with our 12-and-under team with their hard work and dedication to practice even after our regular season was over,” said Parham. “I couldn't be more proud of how they played during each of their games. They represented Madison County well.”
Justin Van Wicklen, recreation department program coordinator, echoed Parham’s sentiments.
“The team as a whole worked hard in the post season, especially since they were competing against each other in the regular season,” he said. “During a tough loss to Bainbridge, the team kept their composure and didn't give up. It was great to see a group of young people work so well together. Mei is an inspiration for us all, most definitely.”
Van Wicklen also praised parents and coaches.
“I also want to give recognition to our volunteer coaches who stepped up this season and devoted their time and experience to these young people, teaching them what it means to work as a team,” he said. “Our parents and family of the team deserve recognition also, for their time and energy getting the team to Thomasville. Without our parents and volunteer coaches, this wouldn't have been possible.”
Team members are Adam Braswell, Jonathan Goodman, Lily Howell Wyatt Love, Athan Nogueda, Whit Williams, Mei Deavers, Dewun Glenn, Carrie Lester, Elijah Neal, Cameron Rice, Braydon Waldroup, Alexus Williamson, Catherine Stroud and Keaton Westbrook. Coaches are Billy Neal, Russ Nix and Dallas Lester.