Eric Thunander once viewed the world through the eyes of an abused child, and tried desperately to wish it all away. When he realized that was not possible, he simply found a way to survive.
And while basic survival may be the cornerstone of Thunander's life " as described in his autobiographical book "Silent Thunder" " his compelling story encompasses so much more than just the heart-wrenching details of his struggles. It is also a story of hope, courage, faith and redemption.
These days, the 28-year-old Thunander spends much of his time sharing his story through motivational speeches in hopes that his success might inspire others who are experiencing troubles of their own. He has worked tirelessly over the last few months to help market and promote his new book, which was released last month by Tate Publishing.
"The whole experience has helped me move forward with my life," said Thunander, whose childhood was further complicated by the fact he was born with almost 80 percent hearing loss. "To take all of these things I had placed in an imaginary box over the years and avoided at all costs, and find a way to face them " honestly, writing the book has been a life-saving experience."
After enduring an abusive childhood that included him witnessing a double homicide at age 8, he discovered sports as a way to lift both his spirits and dreams. Despite the added challenges that came with competing in a hearing world, he managed to excel through hard work and determination.
Thunander became a standout track and field performer " helping his Lee's Summit mile relay unit set a Missouri state high school record in 1997 " but football was his passion. He dedicated himself to the sport and dreamed of playing it in college one day.
At one point, he was being recruited by 34 college programs " including the University of Oklahoma and Kansas State University " but he was in for a rude awakening once many of those programs found out he was deaf.
"After that, two-thirds of those schools turned me down. I guess they didn't believe a deaf person could play at that level," said Thunander, who also excelled in the classroom.
While he was the defensive coordinator at K-State, Bob Stoops had seen Thunander play. Even after he was hired as head coach at Oklahoma in December 1998, Stoops never lost track of the talented linebacker.
And when Thunander made his official visit to the OU campus, it proved to be a life-changing moment.
"It all turned out for the best, because once I saw the OU campus and walked into the Switzer Center and experienced that whole deal, I knew where I wanted to play," said Thunander, who was offered a scholarship and eventually played for OU's 2000 national championship squad.
A head injury ended his playing career a season later. Without football " the most stabilizing force in his life " Thunander found his world spinning out of control to the point where he even considered suicide.
"When things got really bad, I was fortunate enough to have someone who reached out to me," said Thunander, who received a call from Stoops about returning to OU to finish his degree on scholarship. "Since then, I've had a lot of former OU players reach out to me. These folks never gave up on me and I'll be a part of this family for the rest of my life.
"For that, I am very grateful."
While finishing his degree in communications, he also worked on his book, which he confessed was very therapeutic. Today, he is riding a seemingly endless wave of public appearances and guest speaker engagements.
"It's been hectic, but I've enjoyed it. It's something different and unique. This whole book deal has been a great experience," said Thunander, who has been approached by more than once source about possibly making his story into a movie. "I believe along the road to success, it's important to give back. I've experienced that with my life and all of the people who have helped me. And I want to do the same."
Thunander soon will begin a book tour of various libraries around the state and he'll be appearing at FireLake Grand Casino to sign books on Sunday. For more information, visit www.silentthunder.net.
"It's definitely been exciting," he said. "I feel like I'm living a dream." "Jay C. Upchurch