What things have you learned to do and what things can you still not do?
I can pretty much learn to do just about anything. My house is completely normal without any adaptations. I don't use a wheelchair inside at all. I pretty much had to learn to do everything normally. Some things are still pretty tough though, like opening Coke cans.
You've grown up playing a lot of sports.
I grew up playing street hockey, baseball, and basketball everyday. And I grew up wrestling around with my friends. I played football (defensive line) for three years in middle school. I like to swim a lot, too. I like to run in my free time. Bear crawls, stuff like that.
I've heard that as you were growing up, your dad wanted you to learn to do all the normal things other kids do.
Right. He's always like that. He's the one who always said, "If he doesn't learn to eat on his own, he's going to starve" and "If he doesn't learn to swim on his own, he's going to drown." He's actually not that bad. I give him a hard time. He's kind of a militaristic figure. He was with the military police.
Do you ever feel pressured by your family or friends to do things on your own?
I just feel the pressure to be normal, really. My whole life's been a pursuit of normalcy is what I like to call it. I mean pressure from myself more than anything else. Nobody else is going to pressure me to do something. If you're going to do something, you're going to do it for your own reasons, not because somebody else is forcing you.
When you decided to try out for your high school wrestling team were the coach and team members supportive?
Well, by then they were. But when I was on the middle-school level, that was really the trial and tribulation that I had to get beyond to go on to wrestling in high school. I never had to go without a spot on the high school team. I was always either starting JV or varsity. [In middle school] I lost my first 40 matches or so. It was my coach [Cliff Ramos] who helped me with the moves and the repertoire that I needed to go out there and win matches.
Do you think wrestling is spiritual?
I think so. Definitely. Our team is very religious. You've got to pray for the safety of your teammates and your opponents. It's just such a rough sport that you've got to have that blanket.
What's your religious background?
My whole family is pretty much Southern Baptist. That's just a huge, huge crutch for me. It's a big part of my life and I thank God [because] everything that I've been able to go on and do is all because of Him.
Do you ever get angry at God?
Not angry in a sense, but more curious. I was going through a rough time when I was losing the first 40 matches [in middle school]. I was really wondering if what I was putting myself through was right for me. I just kept with it and I turned out right in the end. Wrestling is one of the only sports in high school or middle school, where you could get your butt kicked and that's how you lose. It's not losing because the running back dropped the ball or because the point guard missed a shot. It's because you got your pride handed to you on a platter by somebody else. It's a huge emotional toll.
Oh yeah. Definitely. You've got to be. You've got to have a positive outlook on life otherwise you're not going to have any fun.
I wouldn't think a lot of people in your position would be so positive.
But I think that anybody can be. I have gotten to meet quite a few people in my situation and there are other people who have the exact same outlook and have great, happy lives. And there's some other people that have gotten depressed, have gotten overweight and just felt like their situation has gotten out of control and then they just give up and don't care anymore. That's not where I want to be.
What or who motivates you?
God, for one. My friends and family and coaches. That's pretty much all a person needs is just to surround themselves with good people and good things are going to happen.
How do you deal with people teasing you?
Well I usually don't have any problems with that. I've got some great friends and pretty much the whole school and the whole wrestling team backing me so I don't have to worry about that. I have been asked a couple [of annoying questions]. A lot of people since I've been winning a lot more matches have asked me if I have an unfair advantage over all of my opponents.
Right. And it's usually coming from the parents of the kids that I've beaten. But my coach pointed out that these people weren't around and saying that when I was a sixth or seventh grader and losing those first 40 matches. Anybody who wrestles or plays any sport would realize that no matter what it is, you're trying to compete, you're trying to win. You're not going to give something away. [Other wrestlers] are definitely not going to give me any unfair advantage over them. And that's not what I want. I just want an even playing field.
Do you date?
I do. Right now I'm currently looking for a cute girlfriend down in Georgia [laughs]. But I haven't been able to date on a one-on-one basis too much, because I am not able to drive. So most anybody that I've dated it's more of a double date kind of scenario, or like at parties.
Tell me about your interview with Howard Stern.
Howard Stern was actually a really good interviewer. I thought he came up with some creative stuff. He brought up abortion and how the fact that with sonograms now, people could look and see if their baby was in a similar situation as me and immediately think that there couldn't be any hope for that child and that they should abort. He commented on how in that situation you should definitely be pro-life because anybody in any situation can overcome any adversity to have a wonderful life.
What advice would you give someone else with congenital amputation?
I think that anybody in any [hard] situation needs to know that it's always possible to have a great life no matter what those circumstances are. Every day that you wake up is a new opportunity to completely change your outlook on life.