March 5, 2008

Dustin Carter: Pins the odds

Dustin Carter can be emotional.

He weeps sorrowfully after a loss on the wrestling mat and sobs joyfully when he reaches his dream of making the Ohio state tournament.

Dustin Carter can be funny. When he was talking recently to a local newspaper about how girls, after viewing videos of him on the Internet, send him e-mails telling him he's cute, Carter said, "And it's true. I'm pretty cute."

Dustin Carter, a Hillsboro High School 103-pound senior, qualified for states and won his first match in this past weekends Ohio state Wrestling Championships. high school site cameras where there to capture the event. Check out this photo gallery for more.
Dustin Carter can be stubborn. So says his father, Russ Carter, who, when Dustin arrived home from school one day in eighth grade and said he was going to wrestle, knew it'd be useless to argue the point.

But when most prep wrestling fans think of Carter, the Hillsboro High School 103-pound senior who suffered a blood infection when he was 5 and had most of his limbs amputated, they won't hesitate to consider this: Dustin Carter can be inspirational.

That's what those fans said with their reaction last weekend after Carter was knocked out of the Ohio Division II wrestling tournament in Columbus. Already, he had won a handful of tournaments this season, compiled a 41-2 record heading into the state meet and impressed most everyone who had watched him.

After all, it's not hard to be impressed when watching Carter whose legs end below his hips, whose right arm ends just after his elbow and whose left arm is about half the size of the other take down his opponents and score victories.

But after winning his first-round state match at the Schottenstein Center, he lost his next two and didn't place in the top eight. But to the thousands of fans who stood and applauded him after his final defeat, allowing Carter to soak in one last tear-filled appreciative moment, that didn't matter.

They, it turns out, were inspired by what they saw anyway. The same as everybody else around him.

"You can't really describe it," Hillsboro coach Nathan Horne said after Carter placed third in the Southwest District to qualify for state. "It's emotional. It's a great story, and he's a great kid. This is why you coach."

Thirteen years ago, his parents couldn't have predicted this.

After Carter contracted meningococcemia, an acute bacterial infection of the bloodstream, as a 5-year-old, his mother, Lori, rushed him to the hospital. The prognosis wasn't good.

"He woke up one day, playing soccer and being a normal kid," Lori said. "That night, he was on life support, and they were telling us he wasn't going to make it."

He almost didn't. He was airlifted from the hospital in Middletown, Ohio, to Cincinnati Children's Hospital, but his heart stopped pumping and he ceased breathing. Medics resuscitated him, but the same thing happened twice more.

Eventually, doctors stabilized him, and less than three months later, he was released from the hospital. Physically, he was a changed boy. Mentally, though, he soon became his normal self.

I'll never forget it. Probably brag about it my whole life. Probably always wake up in the morning and remember these last two days and the whole year, the adventure on the way up here. The blood, the sweat, the tears, all that it took to get to this tournament.
Dustin Carter, immediately following his elimination from the Ohio State Wrestling tournament

"Like anybody at first, he was angry," Lori Carter said. "He cried, and he didn't understand. After that, it was like he kept us going. His determination to be able to do everything himself that's what kept him going. He had to relearn how to do everything."

That meant learning to walk. That meant learning to do tasks by himself; with the exception of cutting his steak, he manages most everything else. That meant learning to live without anybody's help.

"I thought we'd have to help him an awful lot going to the bathroom, feeding him," Russ said. "We helped him for a couple months, and then he went off on his own. He gets the chair and climbs up on the kitchen counter, gets his bowls, gets in the refrigerator and gets his stuff out. Then, he just goes to work."

It also meant learning not to accept your pity.

"I don't look at myself as different," Dustin said. "I wrestle like anybody else. I go to school like anybody else. I can live on my own like anybody else. I can do anything anybody else can do.

"I don't like people feeling sorry for me."

Last weekend in Columbus, the wrestlers who beat him were quick to give him respect and praise, and after his high school wrestling career ended, state officials welcomed Carter back to the mat, in front of all those thousands of people, to honor him with a special video presentation.

"I'll never forget it," Carter told reporters after he was eliminated. "Probably brag about it my whole life. Probably always wake up in the morning and remember these last two days and the whole year, the adventure on the way up here. The blood, the sweat, the tears, all that it took to get to this tournament."

Carter wants to continue all of the above when he wrestles in college either at the College of Mount St. Joseph's in Cincinnati or Wilmington (Ohio) College, both of which are NCAA Division III schools.

For Carter, wrestling isn't just a sport where he can sacrifice and inspire. It's a sport he needs.

"It's more to keep me through college," he said. "Wrestling kept my grades up and kept me more motivated to do things. That's what wrestling does to me. It keeps my head on right."

If Carter's wishes are granted, he'll wrestle in college before beginning a career in nutrition and motivational speaking. Why not? He got this far, didn't he?

"He's going to be very successful," said Scott Goodpaster, Carter's trainer. "He's going to be a busy man. Whatever he does, he's going to put 110 percent into it. He has a very successful career ahead of him."

And, most important, a successful life.

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