From one kid captain to another, Iowa’s Kelby Telander encourages others to embrace differences

"I was about the age of 7 years old, I would have had no clue that I'd be here today"
Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 6:36 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - One Iowa football player’s return to Duke Slater Field at Kinnick Stadium is unlike any other. It’s been a dream come true for the North Liberty native to play for the black and gold.

In 2009, Kelby Telander served as a Kid Captain for the Hawkeyes.

“I was about the age of seven. I would have had no clue that I’d be here today,” Telander said.

As a toddler, he struggled with hearing loss.

“I was 3 years old when I was in the hospital. I found out that I was doing a couple hearing tests. Right about that time, it was pretty limited because I completely failed the hearing test. It was either I was going to get a cochlear implant or I was gonna get a hearing aid,” he explained.

Telander underwent surgery at the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital for a cochlear implant that completely changed his life.

“When I stepped out of the hospital, the first thing my dad said was my head just followed with the bus. A big Iowa City school bus came by and my head just swiveled with it. He said I kind of had like a smile or smirk. It was the first time I actually heard something,” Telander said.

Growing up he played basketball, baseball, ran track, but his favorite sport was football. However, playing with a hearing disability presented its challenges.

“A huge part of me had to learn to communicate with the coaches beforehand. I couldn’t just go out there and do it, in the motion and kind of wing it. That being said, I kind of had to be willing to speak up,” he explained.

The coaches at Iowa accepted Telander for who he is by offering him a spot as a walk-on in 2021.

“It is a dream come true. After that Kid Captain experience, that’s all I really wanted,” he said. “I was a diehard Hawkeye fan and I’m happy to say I lived it out, but there’s still a long ways to go.”

Now as a sophomore linebacker for the Hawkeyes, Telander gets to meet the Kids Captains ahead of each season. Recently, he met six-year-old Nile Kron. The two share something in common.

“Coach told me there was a kid with cochlear implant that was Kid Captain, so I jogged over and I got a chance to meet Nile and his family. It was just a surreal experience,” Telander said about Iowa’s ‘Kid’s Day at Kinnick’ held in August. “Once I saw him, I just lit up.”

The people at the hospital are a big reason Telander chose to stay close to home when attending college. He’s reminded of those relationships after the first quarter of an Iowa home game when he gets to participate in the ‘Iowa Wave.’

“What we think we’re going through is tough during the game, but when we get to look up at the first quarter, we’re nowhere near the challenges that the kids are battling. That just provides a motivation for us whether we’re winning or losing,” Telander said.

His advice from one Kid Captain to another, is to be proud of your differences and continue to dream big.

“I’m very thankful. For being able to step on the field now with the Hawkeyes and run out with them for the swarm,” he said.