Missouri wrestler J'den Cox battling with new challenge

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COLUMBIA - Missouri wrestler J'den Cox said he never backs down from a challenge, whether it's on the mat or anywhere else. 

"I want to dominate," Cox said.

Mizzou wrestling coach Brian Smith said, "He always wants to be the best on the field or the best on the mat."

Cox's father Mike Cox said, "Whatever obstacles that he has to climb to accomplish his goals, he does that."

Recently, that became harder.

"I just kind of noticed it that I had to keep repeating things to him," Smith said.

"It's pretty much just getting worse. I'm having trouble hearing people in crowded places," Cox said.

His mother, Cathy Cox said, "After meeting with the doctor, it was determined that J'den had lost I think about 35 percent of his hearing in his left ear."

Cox said he began losing his hearing earlier this year, and he and his family still don't know why this is happening.

"I really don't know if it's wrestling related or if it's something else," his mother said.

Cox's father is also deaf in one ear; however, his condition began when he was a child. So far, the doctors have not determined whether or not this is correlated with Cox's hearing loss. There are still lots of unanswered questions.

"Was the hearing loss cause of the blows during wrestling? Is the hearing loss something that's just occurring naturally? Is the hearing loss something that is occurring suddenly? Is it going to get worse? Is it going to get better?" Cathy Cox said.

In the midst of uncertainty, Cox must learn to live with this new obstacle. He says for the most part, it doesn't affect wrestling at all.

"If anything it helps tone everything out," Cox said.

Smith said, "I'll have to know which ear to yell at him."

Cox said, "During practice now, I need to be close to coach."

It's outside of wrestling where Cox will have to adapt the most.

"It's a curse and a blessing cause I'm really into sign language. Losing my hearing I kind of get to explore this," Cox said.

"I think he's very much taking a wait and see approach," Cathy Cox said. "In the meantime he loves learning sign language and I don't think it's out of a fear that he's going to be a non-hearing person. I just think he loves learning sign language."

Cox began learning sign language as a student at Hickman High School, well before he started losing his hearing. He said one of his dream jobs was to be a creative writing teacher for a deaf school. 

"I don't know where I came up with it but I liked writing and I liked sign language," Cox said. "So I was like all right put them together what do you get?"

His father said, "This was a passion for him even before this hearing loss came."

Cox is currently enrolled in American Sign Language at Mizzou. His TA, Hayden Kristal, has been very impressed with him. 

"A for effort and A for execution because his signs are beautiful," Kristal said. "His facial expression is great, and facial expression is a huge part of sign language."

Kristal wasn't always this fond of Cox.

"I was like 'this dumb jock is going to come into my class and he's going to demand all of this special treatment and skip class and he's going to miss homework' and then when he failed, I'm going to get blamed, and I was just so angry."

But Kristal quickly realized Cox was different.

"When I met him, he was this smart, nice, hardworking guy, and I was like 'oh that's not what I was expecting at all.' It was super nice."

Now, what Cox learns in school, he brings home to teach his mom.

"J'den teaches me every time he comes home when he refuses to speak and just uses his hands to talk," Cathy Cox said. "Sometimes I have to say 'honey, please use words when you sign. Momma can learn it a lot easier if you use the words while you sign.'"

Cox said, "I'll give her a ‘C' right now. That's better than a ‘F' or a ‘D.'"

His mother said, "My favorite sign that I do to J'den even when he wrestles is a very simple one. I love you."

Cox said, "I don't know what's going to happen with it. I don't know what it's going to come to. I just know where I'm at right now. I know what I'm doing to be ready for anything."

Cox won the NCAA national championship at 197 pounds earlier this year as a freshman. He was also a four-time state champion at Columbia's Hickman High School. But Cox said he has bigger goals.

"Well, I want to get back to where I was last year, but I want to do it better than I did last year," Cox said.

"His goal is to win four, and he wants to make an Olympic team," Smith said.