Blindness, Cerebral Palsy Can't Stop Him

February 06, 2009

Wrestler Jeremy Stanley is all business once he takes his glasses off.

The 17-year-old grappler, who has cerebral palsy and is legally blind, has a focused glare as the referee guides him to the centre of the squared circle. A quick handshake with his opponent and he's ready to go.

His matches don't last long. As a rookie with limited physical abilities, he has a tough time against his able-bodied foes. But he's learning fast and refuses to give up.

"I've had nine matches," the St. Mary's student said during yesterday's meet at St. David. "I scored a point in my last one."

The Eagles' wrestling squad welcomed their latest recruit with open arms when he came out to practice at the beginning of the season. His undying effort and genuine love of the sport has since inspired the entire club.

"I know he's motivated me," said team co-captain Hilda Ulloa, 17. "He's absolutely awesome. It's amazing, regardless if he can get the wrestling moves right the first time or not, he'll keep doing it. As soon as you tell him good job he goes even harder."

The wrestling fraternity is strong and opponents take care of their fellow mat men. In some cases, they'll grapple with Stanley longer than need be to give the first-timer a chance to try and apply some moves. Being legally blind, he must stay in contact with his opponent at all times. Not being able to see clearly is a disadvantage but everyone -- athletes, coaches and referees -- help direct him throughout his matches.

"I like the single leg," Stanley says with conviction. "I try to get people on their backs. That's how you get points."

Stanley takes his passion for wrestling home and even practises with his brown and white English bulldog Boris. He tries to slap a leg lock on the pooch but says it's not that easy because "he has big feet." Lately though, all his attention is on new baby sister Hannah, who was born on Sunday.

"I'm trying to get some sleep," he said with a laugh. "I haven't had to change any of the dirty diapers yet."

Yesterday's meet was the final tune-up for all of Waterloo Region's wrestlers. The high school championship runs back at the Waterloo school on Wednesday. And Stanley is gearing up for the showdown.

"He has been progressing quite well in his strength and he's trying some new moves," said St. Mary's co-coach Carol Vienneau.

"It's exciting and he always has something good to say. He's always talking or bragging about his wrestling team."

When he's not grappling, Stanley is jumping from mat to mat, cheering on his teammates. And some of the more decorated Eagles have even passed along their medals to the dedicated newcomer, much to his delight.

"They do take care of him and look out for him," said Vienneau. "We still have that family reputation on the wrestling team."

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