CANTON, Ohio (WJW) – When the Canton McKinley High School Marching Bulldogs take the field on Friday nights, Eli Golden is indistinguishable from the others in the band.
For him to have achieved that, he has had to overcome some very significant challenges.
His mother, Marissa Golden, says Eli was born two months early and his heart was not beating at birth.
“For 21 minutes they coded him, so he was very, very sick when he was first born and he was expected not to survive. The birth family took him off of the breathing tube to just kind of help him pass peacefully and he started breathing on his own,” said Melissa.
Eli has grown up unable to hear in his left ear, with significant hearing impairment in his right. His mother says he also has had mild cerebral palsy since birth.
When he was a toddler, his hands would close, so she started putting pencils in them and Eli started tapping a beat.
“He would tap on things all the time and he would sit in his bouncy seat and kick his legs,” said Melissa.
As he grew, his mother says she would notice that Eli would reach out to touch speakers when music was playing, but they still really had not yet understood the seriousness of his hearing impairment.
They later realized how important music, and drumming in particular, was for him.
“He’s literally tuned in. Drumming has been something he looks forward to, something he uses as a release, something that makes sense to him,” said Akron Children’s Hospital Dr. Ian Rossman, who has worked with Eli and his family.
In fourth grade, Eli became a part of Canton City School’s arts academy. Because he was so in tune with the beat from music, he joined the band when he became a freshman at McKinley High School.
“To be honest. I was terrified when he wanted to do marching band because I didn’t know and anytime he joins anything new, you get a little nervous because you never know if people will be accepting or be kind and how he’s going to feel about whatever their reaction,” said his mother.
“At first it was a little overwhelming. You know, we have a new student that I am trying to teach what I have done for years to and not fully understanding all of the obstacles that he is facing,” said Canton McKinley High School Band Director Zachary Taylor.
However, Eli says he can feel the beat.
“He identifies and can feel the lower frequency rhythms so he can feel, maybe, the ground or maybe when he’s wearing the drum or the harness, the base drum rhythms and sometimes, maybe the low brass rhythms because its those low frequencies that kind of rumble things around them,” said Taylor.
“You know when you are at a fireworks display and there’s a big boom you don’t just hear it, you feel that percussive wave in your chest? That’s when you are aware of the other aspects of sound, the percussive aspects of sound,” said Rossman.
Eli practices with the help of an interpreter who has been at his side since the fourth grade, but when the band performs, she’s not there.
His mother says, at first, she expected he might be a step or two behind everyone else, but that’s not the case.
“The first year was difficult, but now in his second year, he is moving along much quicker, he’s playing, picking up parts quicker,” said Taylor.
The Canton McKinley marching band has been very inclusive with several members in wheelchairs and another who is visually impaired.
His teachers, band director and family all say Eli’s remarkable performance has been nothing short of inspirational.
“It’s teaching the other students compassion, how to be patient, how to work with others that struggle a little more than they do, so it’s teaching all of our students life skills that are going to help them tremendously,” said Taylor.