“The only disability in life is a bad attitude,” Olympic gold medal-winning figure skater Scott Hamilton said.
Hamilton overcame a lot in his life, including cancer and a brain tumor that nearly left him blind. His quote has become a beacon of hope for others with disabilities — and a high school wrestler in Alabama is living proof of that.
Jay Spencer is a student at St. John Paul II Catholic High School in Huntsville, Alabama. When he was 3 years old, Spencer was diagnosed with a retinal degenerative disease known as Leber congenital amaurosis-10.
The disease has cost him most of his vision. He has to tilt his head to the right so he can see out of the corner of his left eye, which is where his vision is best.
Though he is legally blind, Spencer has become one of the premier high school wrestlers in Alabama, qualifying for three straight state tournaments.
“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 was also the starting center in football the past three seasons, told AL.com. “I was able to pick up on that rather quickly.”
On Saturday, he made history when he became the first St. John Paul II wrestler to win a state title.
After the victory, Spencer sent a message of hope and determination to everyone, disabled or not.
“Don’t let what anyone thinks about you change how you think, and as long as you believe you can do something, then you can,” he said.
Spencer competed in the Class 1A-5A 160-pound North Super Section and had a 35-2 record with 32 wins by pin heading into the state championship.
When Spencer first started wrestling, his coaches were a bit skeptical that he could compete at the high school level, much less become a state champion. But he has gone the extra mile to prepare himself for moments like this.
“He’ll never admit to you that he’s challenged by his eyesight,” assistant coach Duke Labasi told AL.com. “He’s an Eagle Scout, he’s a varsity football player.
“He knows that he has to put in extra work. He won’t admit it, but he’s behind the power curve, because it’s not easy to show him moves. You don’t show him anything; everything is a feel for him.”
Perhaps even better than winning a state championship is the fact that Spencer learned that there might be a cure for his disease. He traveled to Boston in October for a number of tests and learned he might be a candidate for a gene-editing therapy that could cure LCA 10.
As for Spencer’s wrestling career, it appears that it won’t end in high school. According to AL.com, he has received interest from several Division II and Division III programs.
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