Marquise and Deja Goodwin are siblings with twin hearts taking different strides
12:41 AM CDT on Friday, October 1, 2010
By BRAD TOWNSEND / The Dallas Morning News
Born 10 months apart, Marquise and Deja Goodwin are practically twins in age and kindred spirits.
Both are 19, with gentle eyes and cheery demeanors. They share an intuitive wavelength, even though and probably because the world views them so differently.
Marquise is a University of Texas sophomore receiver and world-class track athlete. Deja has cerebral palsy.
Rowlett High School graduate Marquise is an academic All-American with 2012 Olympics aspirations. Deja has never walked but vicariously strides alongside the slightly older brother she proudly calls "Pookie."
"I guess you could categorize her as special needs," Marquise says. "But she's always just been my sister.
"I feel that God put her in my life for this certain reason, to be my inspiration and keep me going."
Texas fans know Marquise as the 5-9, 175-pounder who arrived on a track scholarship but made the football team last fall and scored his first touchdown in storybook fashion.
It was only a 14-yard reception, but it happened against Oklahoma and was Texas' only touchdown in a 16-13 victory.
Marquise swears that as he high-stepped into the end zone, he heard his mother, Tamina, shriek above the din of 96,009 fans at the Cotton Bowl. Perhaps it was a subliminal echo from single-parent Tamina's cheering since Marquise was 9.
Deja wasn't in the Cotton Bowl that day. She has attended four Texas games but watched this one on TV at her grandmother's house in Mesquite.
"We were screamin'," Deja recalls, beaming. She had given Pookie her usual pregame instruction by phone, held to her ear by grandma Billie Williams. "You better do good. I'll be watching you."
As the game wore into the third quarter tied at 6, Deja fidgeted on the couch.
"Grandma, I don't see Pookie."
Williams reassured her that Marquise would return.
"When he made the touchdown, she started having muscle spasms," Williams says. "Her body stiffened, and she almost slid down to the floor hollering.
"'He did it! He did it! He did it!' "
Marquise came by his athleticism and book smarts naturally.
Tamina Goodwin was an A-B student, ran track and played tennis at Lubbock Monterey High School.
Though she's only 5 feet 3, her best sport was basketball. As a junior, she was a starting point guard the season Monterey advanced to the 1990 state tournament, losing to Houston Yates in the semifinals.
A month later, she became pregnant with Marquise. He was born on Nov. 19, two months premature but healthy.
At her mother's urging, Tamina graduated and left for Southwestern Christian College in Terrell, where a basketball scholarship awaited. She was again pregnant, by the same man, but hoped to pursue her degree and eventually play.
"I went into labor three months early," she says. "They couldn't stop my delivery. I went from an athlete to a 24-7 mom."
The baby's given name was Shaniquah, though everyone would call her Deja. Doctors said that even if the 3-pound girl survived the first few days, she probably wouldn't live beyond six months.
After a month in the hospital, she was sent home with a heart monitor. She began to show symptoms of cerebral palsy, which is caused when the brain's motor control centers are damaged.
Tamina says doctors told her that even if Deja lived beyond six months, she would never walk and probably would never talk.
Meanwhile, the children's biological father disappeared. Tamina said he has never been in their lives, missing family hardship but also triumphs – most recently Deja's 19th birthday two weeks ago.
"As far back as I can remember, I realized she was different," Marquise says. "Usually, brothers and sisters don't get along, but she's been my girl from Day One.
"She always has this bright smile, just being Deja."
Marquise says there were rare exceptions during their childhood. During extended-family gatherings, Deja seemed sad when the kids went out to play and she couldn't join them. So Marquise often stayed inside with her.
Sometimes, Deja says she wishes she could run like Pookie. Tamina and Marquis nod and smile, then turn away, misty-eyed.
"He tries to be there for her in every way," Tamina says. "Her walk. Her talk. Her thoughts. He wants to take her places, so she can experience what he does."
Move to North Texas
Tamina got married and had two more daughters, Brye and Chez Henry, now 15 and 13.
But the marriage ended when Marquise was in ninth grade, again leaving Tamina as a single parent, now of four.
She tried various jobs, but Deja's need for constant care required flexible work hours. A logical option seemed to be hairdressing, so she attended Lubbock's International Business College and earned a cosmetology certificate in 2000.
When her mother moved to Mesquite and required surgery in 2002, Tamina wanted to live nearby, so she uprooted her family from Lubbock.
The closest they could get was Arlington. Deja's disability qualified them for Section 8 housing, which provides rental assistance to low-income families. But families can only go where such housing is available.
After a year in Arlington, Tamina found a home in Rowlett, where Marquise blossomed into a football standout and seven-time Class 5A champion in the long jump, triple jump and sprint relay.
Often, Tamina's father, Ira Goodwin, came from Amarillo to take care of household needs and to watch Marquise compete.
Tamina says her father was the closest person Marquise had to a father figure. But Ira Goodwin died when Marquise was 14.
"On July 20, 2005," Marquise says. "After he passed, it was hard to maintain. I was an emotional wreck."
Tamina says the devastation triggered sudden maturation in Marquise. He got a job at Abercrombie & Fitch in Town East Mall and worked part-time for a moving company.
Always attentive to Deja, he was now strong enough to carry her upstairs, set her in the bathtub or employ her favorite game, in which he holds her by the arms or legs and they spin like a top.
When Marquise signed his track letter of intent on Feb. 4, 2009, Rowlett High onlookers smiled as he lifted Tamina like a baby and posed for pictures. But only family and friends knew the extent of mother and son's pride and joy.
She had insisted that 9-year-old Marquise finish track workouts when he didn't feel like it. She played one-on-one basketball with him. She cheered so boisterously at his games and meets that he could always spot her.
On the day he signed his track letter of intent, he vowed to also try out for football at Texas. He had been recruited with the understanding that he would try to walk on, but friends scoffed, saying that he wasn't big enough.
"I'm the type of person," he says, "that if someone doubts me, I'm definitely going to prove them wrong."
'That's my brother'
Tamina and her daughters moved to DeSoto about a year ago.
The home is single-story, so 120-pound Tamina no longer has to carry 100-pound Deja upstairs.
Deja smiles when Tamina wheels her into the living room for her first interview, though she glances warily at the notepad and tape recorder.
"Hi!" she says, giggling, which she does often.
Last year, she attended two Texas football games, both in Austin. Awed by the setting and crowd size, she mostly watched the huge video screen, telling nearby fans, "That's my brother."
Afterward, she visited Pookie and some of his teammates in the family area outside the locker room.
She says she especially enjoyed meeting "the ones with the dreds." Tamina identifies them as safety Earl Thomas and fullback Antwan Cobb. Did Deja have a crush on one of them?
"No!!!" she says.
If her heart has room for any male besides Pookie, it is certainly Usher, whose concert posters adorn her bedroom walls.
Marquise is somewhat famous, with his own Wikipedia entry and 5,004 Facebook friends. But considering her starting odds, Deja has more than overachieved.
Marquise won the NCAA long jump title on June 12 with a leap of 26-9, seven inches farther than the runner-up. Deja has competed in local Special Olympics meets for five years and has medals to prove it.
Marquise had a 3.5 grade point average as a freshman. He is majoring in kinesiology not only to become a physical therapist but also to gain knowledge about how his and Deja's bodies function.
Deja is a senior in DeSoto High School's Life Skills Program and is scheduled to graduate next spring. Tamina says she considers Deja fortunate because of the program's 11 students, only a few can speak.
Deja says she gets extra attention at school "because people ask me who my brother plays for and what number he is."
Marquise is blessed with other, less known abilities. He can do somersaults and is a talented sketch artist. Most who meet Deja compliment her on her toned biceps, gained mostly from pushing herself up from the floor while watching TV.
"Little Miss Bossy, she keeps us in line," laughs Tamina. "All four of my kids, I wouldn't trade for the whole world. They've made me a better person."
Eight months ago, 37-year-old Tamina landed a job at Walmart. She was soon moved to the customer service counter because she seemed unusually patient and personable.
Good luck charm
She usually works the 3 to 11 p.m. shift. Her mother and her boyfriend, Nakei Thomas, pitch in at home.
It also helps that Brye and Chez are now old enough to help with Deja.
Still, Marquise checks in several times daily from Austin.
He is far from the first college athlete to come from difficult circumstances, sit in high-tech classrooms and practice in multimillion-dollar facilities and worry whether the bills are getting paid back home.
For Marquise, there's added concern and helplessness because he's 200 miles from the sister who has counted on him her entire life.
"When I talk to him, I try to keep my peppy voice," Tamina says. "Even when I do worry, he'll be the last to know.
"I tell him, 'Baby, focus on you. We're good over here. You have a job now. You work out, play football, run track, and you get those grades.' "
For her birthday two weeks ago, Deja had one request. She wanted to see Pookie play, which meant trekking to her first Texas road game, in Lubbock.
Tamina piled boyfriend Thomas and the girls into her 2006 Kia Rio, with Deja's wheelchair taking most of the trunk space, for the five-plus hour drive.
About 20 family members and friends cheered Marquise as he returned to his and Deja's birthplace to catch four passes in a Texas victory.
Afterward, Thomas gently lowered Deja over the stadium railing, into Marquise's arms.
Camera flashes spotlighted brother and sister as friends and relatives captured the moment. Birthday wish: fulfilled.
"She told me she's my good luck charm," Marquise says. "Seeing that smile on her face, man, is just priceless."
Deja got her birthday wish. She cheered for her brother, Marquise, at a game two weeks ago in their birthplace, Lubbock. And UT beat Texas Tech.
View larger Photography Photo store