Luke Adams talks "Amazing Race," deafness


Amazing Race star Luke Adams visited Indy to support the local deaf and hard of hearing community. - SUBMITTED PHOTO
  • submitted photo
  • Amazing Race star Luke Adams visited Indy to support the local deaf and hard of hearing community.

Luke Adams, the deaf TV contestant of the CBS reality show "Amazing Race" spent a recent weekend in Indy - giving talks to deaf and hard of hearing students at the Indiana School for the Deaf, and interacting with the deaf community at the annual PTCO Day school fair on the campus.

At the "Amazing Race" show, Luke Adams competed with his mother, Margie O' Donnell in Season 14 (2008), Season 18 (2010) and Season 24 (2013).

Margie O'Donnell has normal hearing, and she uses American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with her deaf son. They had a close kinship with each other for many years through Luke's life. This unique hearing mother / deaf son competed in various athletic activities and cultural pursuits in different countries around the world. Each race involved 35,000 - 40,000 miles in nine countries in about 23 days. The winning team would win $1 million dollars at the end of the race. Margie and Luke placed 3rd at Season 14 and 8th at Season 18.

Margie O'Donnell works as a senior clinical research associate for Novo Nordisk in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Luke Adams works as a motivational speaker.

Q: How did you lose your hearing? Was there any deafness in your family?

A: I was born deaf and there were no deafness in my family history. I graduated as a valedictorian at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in 2003 and I also graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York in 2008.

Q: Each race lasted about 23 days in nine different countries. Most adults would not spend 24/7 with their parents for three weeks! Was there too much togetherness with your mother? Has the three races changed your perspective toward your mother in any way?

A: I always had a great relationship with my mother all my life. After the races, I am closer to my mother, and I love her and respect her much more.

Q: Your mother came from an athletic family. What sports did you play in high school and college?

A: Yes, my mother had five brothers and three sisters, who all liked to play sports! I played football and basketball at high school. At my senior year, I was captain of the basketball team. I did not have a chance to play sports at college.

Q: You two went through difficult crises and terrible problems for the three races. You were certainly not your normal selves. How did your friends and relatives react when they watched you on national TV?

A: My college friends were very supportive and understanding.They already knew me well at college, and they knew that the races were not normal times for us.

The races were intense periods and we never knew what was ahead of us. We didn't know who was ahead and who was behind us. Twenty days of intense competition, lack of sleep and innumerable worries! The most difficult task was driving the car during the races. My mother and I communicate very well in ASL, but in the car, I was driving with my mother in the back seat. The TV crew sat up front with me. I could not see my mother very well, and the only way we could communicate was through the rear view mirror, and that was not much.

But no, we did not embarrass ourselves on national TV at all.

Q: Besides your mother, who else has been the most influential person in your life?

A: Two best friends from college - Joanna and Reyes are almost like brother and sister to me. They believed in me strongly and they encouraged me when I applied for the first race on the Amazing Race TV series. Joanna and Reyes provided me great inspiration and hope during the three races.

Q: Your mother has married a wonderful man two years ago. How do you feel about your new stepfather? Has he learned some ASL yet? Did he know any other deaf people before he met your mother?

A: Actually my stepfather and my mother are old childhood friends. They drifted apart after high school. He found her on Facebook, and started to exchange email messages with her. That happened before we got involved with the races. His daughter (now my stepsister) already took several ASL classes. That made me happy to have one sister who knew ASL.

After their marriage, my stepfather is learning the manual alphabet. I don't see him very much, because I don't live under my mother's roof anymore. During the second season, there was a huge TV viewing party with many deaf people attending. My stepfather had no problem meeting all of those deaf strangers. He's a great man and I am very happy to call him as my stepdad.

Interviewer's Comments: I have an interesting story to tell you about your stepfather. Although he may not learn much sign language, you can still have a good relationship with him.

(Interviewer continuing his story): My parents in Evansville had two deaf boys and three other children with normal hearing. My father passed away in 1987 and my mother spent the next ten years in widowhood. My mother dated a retired post office worker from Fort Wayne, named Joe Rash. He had never met any deaf people before. One time my mother took Joe to my deaf niece's high school graduation at the Indiana School for the Deaf. I had warned my mother that the sight of 500 deaf people using ASL would scare off any prospective boyfriend! I was mistaken - Joe Rash had a wonderful time and he got to meet most of my niece's classmates by writing on paper and pencil! My mother married him after several years of courtship. When my deaf niece graduated from Gallaudet University, my mother and Joe enjoyed a full week in Washington D.C. - enjoying the sights and seeing almost 3,000 college-educated deaf people at one place. Although Joe Rash had never met a single deaf person in his life and he could not learn ASL, he took my mother's two deaf sons and her two deaf grandchildren in great stride.

Michael Reis is an independent researcher who has worked in the past 20 years on various histories of deaf people in Indiana. He once edited a statewide deaf newsletter, but is still involved with state and local deaf organizations.


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