She had a 50 percent chance of surviving meningitis. The possibility of her never hearing again was huge. The chance of a sixth year of eligibility was slim.
And she smiled through it all.
“That’s just Drey,” said her mother, Jennifer Mingo.
Drey Mingo is a graduate student studying toxicology and a forward on the women’s basketball team. Her time at Purdue has been full of anomalies.
Even after she learned she had lost all of her hearing after fighting bacterial meningitis, she persevered. Her mom said they cried for about five minutes and then began to focus on the challenges ahead.
“The toughest part was no hearing,” Mingo said. “I had to have everything written out; I had to rely on reading lips.”
Her teammates rallied around her in support of a woman whom they describe as amazing on the court, but even better off the court.
“Drey Mingo is amazing, not just as a basketball player, but as a person,” freshman forward Taylor Manuel said. “She’s one person I look up to a lot.”
Three months later, with a little luck and a lot of faith, Mingo gained most of her hearing back in her right ear. She remains legally deaf in her left.
She transferred from the University of Maryland after the 2008-09 season because she wanted a better opportunity academically. Because of NCAA rules, she was redshirted her first season at Purdue.
During her second season, Mingo started out strongly. As described by the team’s associate athletics communications director Sara White, she was a leader the moment she stepped on campus.
“A lot of players gravitated toward her and sought her leadership,” White said.
Mingo’s list of awards in her sixth year is testament to that. To name just a few, she’s won the Roger Blalock Memorial Outreach Award for her community service, an AP All-America honorable mention and the Giant Steps Courageous Student-Athlete honor by the National Consortium for Academics and Sports.
After her bout with hearing loss, she founded a charity, Sounds of Serenity, to empower children with hearing loss. Most student athletes receive overwhelming support when faced with adversity. Fans can be one of the biggest motivators for them, but this time Mingo decided to give back.
Her future career includes the same altruistic aspect – she wants to be a pediatric cardiologist, which her mother says has been her goal since Drey was 2 years old.
Of course her mother saw a spark of talent for basketball when Drey, as a kid, went for a left-hand layup but jumped off her right leg. But Drey Mingo remembers a different aspect of her childhood.
“I was kind of that quirky kid,” Mingo said. “Instead of playing outside, I liked anatomy coloring books.”
Her perseverance in her career is easily reflected in her athletic life. After her bout with meningitis, another haunting injury hit Mingo: an ACL tear during a scrimmage game in October 2011.
It ended her season but not her desire to persevere.
She, along with the help of her coaching staff and compliance director Tom Mitchell, applied for a sixth year of eligibility, a rarity in the NCAA.
Mingo thought she had a 20 percent chance of getting it approved. She received notice of the approval on Good Friday of 2012. To Mingo, it was a blessing.
Mitchell said that after checking all the boxes on the technical aspects of sixth-year eligibility, the goal was to make an impassioned plea.
Coaches, professors and teammates wrote letters of support for Mingo.
She started her sixth year as a graduate student, and juggling the life of a grad student and an athlete was a new challenge for her. But by this point, Mingo had mastered the skill of time management.
During the season, Mingo averaged 12.2 points and 6 rebounds. She led Purdue to its second Big Ten Tournament title, scoring a season-high 24 points in the championship game.
Last week, another chapter in Mingo’s life came in the form of participating in a training camp for the Washington Mystics that starts May 5. There are two exhibition games, a May 15 matchup against the Brazil National Team and against Minnesota in Bismark, N.D., on May 18.
Head coach Sharon Versyp said Mingo’s next step is both clear and unknown.
“Everybody will always want to know what Drey Mingo is doing,” Versyp said. “Like ‘Where’s Waldo,’ it’s ‘Where’s Drey Mingo?’”
Staff reporter Filip Bojanic and assistant sports editor Steve Schreck contributed to this story.