The National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma has a mural titled “Any BODY Can Wrestle” featuring life-size images of Bobby Weaver, Stephen Neal, Adeline Gray, Anthony Robles and Clarissa Chun, all to illustrate that there’s a place in wrestling for everyone, no matter your size, gender, ethnicity or physical limitations.
Two wrestlers featured in recent mainstream media coverage — Jay Spencer of Alabama, and Nick Trotter of Illinois — prove that point.
Jay Spencer: “You don’t have to see to wrestle”
Jay Spencer, a senior at John Paul II High School in Huntsville, Alabama is legally blind. Yet that didn’t stop him from being successful on the mat. In fact, he just concluded his prep career by winning the Class 1A 160-pound title at the Alabama state championships in Huntsville on Saturday.
Spencer was diagnosed with Leber congenital amaurosis 10, an inherited retinal degenerative disease known as LCA 10, when he was 3. He tilts his head to the right so he can see out of the corner of his left eye, where his vision is best.
“Out of all the sports I’ve tried, this is probably the least challenging to pick up because wrestling is a feel sport,” Spencer, who also played starting center for the JPII Falcons the past three seasons, said in a feature for Alabama Media Group written prior to the state championships. “I was able to pick up on that rather quickly.”
“It does have some challenges, but I can ask coach, ‘Can you practice that one with me?’ or say ‘Let me work it on you and correct me if it’s wrong’; nothing that things like that can’t fix.”
Spencer’s mat coach, James Dowd, said, “He can’t get frightened by the venue or by the opponent. He doesn’t get intimidated. All he knows is it’s a pair of hands about to touch him, and that’s it.”
Spencer’s record proves it. Going into the state championships, Spencer was 35-2 this season with 33 falls.
What’s next for Jay Spencer? He hopes to undergo treatment for his LCA 10 which may restore his vision completely.
Nick Trotter: Making the most of what he has
Nick Trotter has succeeded in his young life despite some serious obstacles.
The six-year-old from Macomb, Illinois was born in Ukraine without feet or a left hand. He was adopted by Chris and Mindy Trotter and brought to western Illinois at age 18 months.
Nick is an all-around athlete.
“He can do everything,” Nick’s father told WGEM-TV , the NBC affiliate in Quincy, Illinois. “He knows he can. He’s a great swimmer. He loves to play baseball. We think we found his sport though with wrestling.”
“We don’t see him as having a disability. So we don’t treat him that way. He can do anything.”
Nick’s mother Mindy added, “Last meet that we went to an older man came up and shook his hand and said do you know how much of an inspiration you are?’
Nick may not have fully grasped the meaning of that fan’s statement. After all, he didn’t get into wrestling to provide inspiration to others. As he said, “It’s because I thought I would make new friends. So I did.”
Last weekend, WGEM devoted nearly five minutes of an evening newscast to Nick Trotter the wrestler. An edited version of that video was shown on NBC’s Sunday Today show on Feb. 17. So now he can make friends — and offer inspiration — to millions of viewers well beyond western Illinois.
Want more inspirational stories from the mat? In 2011, InterMat wrote a feature titled “Opportunity for All”, providing profiles of wrestlers such as Anthony Robles, Rulon Gardner, Matt Hamill, Les Anderson and Nick Ackerman who overcame considerable obstacles to become champions in the sport.