Cleft lip doesn’t stop nation’s #1 rusher.

Imagine if you had a cleft lip and palate and your hi school football coach said this about you:

“There is really nothing on the football field that Zamir can’t do. Zamir is an every down [running] back. He has the ability to run between the tackles. He’s physical, strong and can run through tackles but he also has the speed to run on the edge and take it the distance. He ran a 10.5 100-meters this spring.

The other thing Zamir does well is catching the ball. He has very good hands from doing all these camps and 7-on-7s. He is also a physical and willing blocker. I’ve told him that the biggest thing keeping running backs off the field early in their careers is their willingness to block in pass protection. Zamir takes pride in that and does a good job.

Zamir loves the game. A lot of players like Friday night but they don’t like the other things they need to do leading up to Friday. Zamir likes it all. He trains hard in the weight room, on the track, and he practices hard during the season. He is a joy to coach.”

Zamir White had a cleft lip and palate.

Not too shabby praise for a kid  born with a cleft lip and palate, an opening in the upper lip that extends to the nose and inside the roof of the mouth.  Clefts can result in feeding, speech and hearing problems. In White’s case, he was given 10 days to live at birth. According to a recent study, clefts resulted in 3,300 deaths globally. 

White has said: “Multiple surgeries — and much prayer — kept me alive. . . It’s made me work harder.  . . It’s a blessing, all of this that is happening to me. It does get overwhelming sometimes. People are coming up to you all the time asking questions: Where am I going (to college) and (telling me) where I should be going.”

Watch out Peyton Manning!

Nation’s No. 1 running back overcomes adversity to become the next Todd Gurley.**

Head shot of Zamir White, a black hi school running back born with cleft lip.

Zamir White Cleft lip running back.

Excerpts from this piece from Jeff Sentell at 

“White hails from a community that ranks at the bottom in the stats no town wants. Every student at Scotland High School is eligible for a free or reduced lunch.
White is rated as the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect for
the Class of 2018. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

That’s what happens when the area’s unemployment rate was cited at 14.6% by USA Today in 2013. That was nearly double the national rate. Just 14 percent of those residents attained a college degree. That fits the profile of the poorest county in North Carolina.

Yet when White was born into that community, his odds improved. His mother, Shanee White, carried him when she was 14 years old. When her doctors learned her child weighed just one pound six months into her term, she was advised to abort.

At such a young age, those words were impressionable. Her grandmother’s wisdom finally swayed her to carry it out.

“My grandmother was like, ‘If he takes one breath, he is coming into this world,’ so she wouldn’t let them terminate my pregnancy,” Shanee White said.

His grandmother Nancy White was right. White gained approximately seven pounds before he reached full term. When he took that breath, there were no signs of what was to come.

“But I knew he was going to be sick,” Shanee White said. “He had a cleft lip and a cleft palate. He had two cysts on his umbilical cord and his kidneys were leaking. Then they put tubes in his ears for his hearing.”

White’s temperature started dropping and he lost some of that weight. He was given 10 days to live. At about the  same time, his father was incarcerated for a four-year term. His father went to prison again for another seven years later in his life. Those type of odds can break the heart.

That split in his upper lip created a wider opening into his nose, and the split in the roof of his mouth left a gap between his nose and mouth. The CDC states only 2,600 babies in the U.S. each year are born with a cleft palate. Another study notes that 1 or 2 out of every 1,000 babies born in the developed world have a cleft lip and a cleft palate.

He went through a series of surgeries. The last one came when he was seven.

“He stayed in the hospital in Chapel Hill the first three months after he was born,” Shanee White said. “I’m really just happy he’s here. It is not all this football stuff.”

White immediately took to football when he was seven. He still needs one more surgery and he’s supposed to schedule that when he stops growing. It does not seem like he will elect to correct the alignment of his jawbone.  

“I want to make the most of my life having come through what I have,” White said, who targeted next summer to likely make a commitment.

The next mythical back from North Carolina

The kid who overcame all that adversity is now a high school back who draws comparisons to former UGA star Todd Gurley.

Those are things worth remembering, even more than the 45 touchdowns he scored last season, or the fact he’s piled up at least 100 yards in every varsity game. The nearly 6-foot-1, 210-pounder

who has never been caught from behind also pointed out the scars on his lip, hip, kidneys and stomach.“You have to know how precious those beginnings were for Zamir to see why he works so

hard,” Scotland County coach Richard Bailey said. “He wants to take advantages of all this opportunity to just live that God has given him. He now wants to make the most of life. You see that.”

“They said I’d be small,” White said. “I was told I’d probably be about 5-feet-2 inches tall and wouldn’t weigh more than 120 pounds. Think of that. That’s a blessing right there.”

His mother corrected those elements. He wasn’t supposed to be that small. She understood why Zamir felt that way. She has not discussed his ordeals with him in detail. But he believed those things to be true and used that as motivation.

The five-star back ran the 100 meters in 10.5 seconds this spring. That’s a nod to his mother.

“She was a track star, too,” White said. “I think she could run the 100 in 11-something seconds, too.”

Shanee White is just shy of a master’s degree in criminal justice and works as a corrections officer in a state prison. Zamir’s isn’t the only success story at work in his home.

“We have to juggle a lot because I have to be at work at 5:45 every morning,” she said. “So Zamir gets up and gets his 8-year-old sister ready and takes her to school on his way to school. Then he has practice and all these schools and all these girls after him. He handles it all well. I don’t really have much to worry about with him. He’s a really good kid.”

Her son has opted to take German as his foreign language at Scotland County High. He can also thank the care and advice of his great aunt and a great uncle. They seem more like grandparents compared to the advice offered from the typical aunt and uncle.  

Iif this video of some of White’s amazing runs doesn’t work, go here.

** Todd Gurley II is an American football running back for the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League. He was drafted by the Rams tenth overall in the 2015 NFL draft. He played college football at Georgia. Wikipedia

To learn about CLEFT HEART: Chasing Normal, click the Amazon or Barnes & Noble buttons in the margins. Or click the image of the book cover. My coming-of-age memoir has intertwining love stories, mystery, tragedy, and triumph.

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