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November 12, 2005

Taking up arms

From: WFAA, TX - Nov 12, 2005

Former Dallasite found the strength to overcome his past

Kevin Sherrington
08:23 PM CST on Saturday, November 12, 2005

Joe Gonzales grew up deaf and full of anger in the '70s, and life didn't get any easier from there.

He lost his hearing at 2 from a bout of spinal meningitis. His mother, Lupe, worked countless hours teaching him to speak, telling him he was just as good as his buddies in the "Goforth Circle Gang" of Oak Cliff. But a mother's hopes and assurances weren't shared by teachers, and they let her son know as much.

"I was hard of hearing," Gonzales writes, "not stupid."

So Gonzales' parents got Joe mainstreamed into regular schools. But kids could be mean. Knocked off his hearing aid, teased him, made him feel different.

And always, a fight.

"Every school he school he went to," says his aunt, Christina Miller, "he was challenged."

All kinds of challenges, too. He loved sports. Golden Gloves, hockey, even tried bull riding.

Played football at Lake Highlands until his junior year, when a coach told him he'd have to wear his hearing aid or he couldn't come out anymore.

"You can't wear a hearing aid and a football helmet at the same time!" Gonzales writes. "My anger was gaining full speed now."

He was 16 the first time he got into real trouble. Never finished school. And over most of the next 20 years, working odd jobs and following bad crowds, delving deeper into drugs, his anger unfurled like a battle flag.

Finally, eight years ago, his attorney and Dallas courts arranged to have him treated at Quapaw House in Hot Springs, Ark.

Counselors "had their work cut out for them," Gonzales writes. "Dennis T. and Edwin H. put in many hours with me."

They got some unexpected help, too. At a Quapaw House picnic, Gonzales met a woman named Nancy. Not long afterward, they married. He stayed clean and stayed home to help raise her three kids, and she ran a tobacco store.

"That was a turning point for both of them," Miller says. "He's taken care of those kids as if they were his own. He's turned into a great man.

"Nancy? She's a rock. She pushes and motivates him."

But Joe needed something to focus on, and he found it two years ago at a watermelon festival in Hope, Ark., where he caught the tail end of the arm wrestling competition.

Joe told Nancy he wanted to give the sport a shot. Soon he was training under James Smith, a world champion out of Hope in the 198-pound division.

"Joe definitely had the determination," Smith says of his protege. "He's had that in all aspects of his life. He's got great potential."

How great? Finished second in the 176-pound division amateur division of the World Wristwrestling Championship last month in Reno, Nev.

And just three months after back surgery, at that. The Gonzales family is so hooked on the sport that Nancy's 13-year-old daughter and 17-year-old son have taken it up, too.

"Keeps the kids off the street," Nancy says, laughing.

Life is good now. Joe, 40, wants people to know just how good it can be, no matter what your challenges.

"Lives can change with a little love and understanding," he writes. "Hearing helps, too."

They're still working on the latter. Joe is scheduled for a second cochlear implant. Not long after his first, he and Nancy were in the back yard enjoying a world he'd never heard when he asked what a noise was.

"Crickets," she said.


© 2005 WFAA-TV