Twelve-year-old Matt Sechrist lives near Gettysburg, Penn., and his goal is to earn a spot on his high school wrestling team. What makes his story unique is that he was born with spina bifida, and also has had both legs amputated below the knees.
But he wrestles nonetheless and has been doing well.
‘Right now I weigh 45 pounds,’ Sechrist said in a telephone interview. ‘I’m not eligible yet to wrestle in regular matches because the minimum wrestling weight for the lowest weight class is 66 pounds.’
So to compete in officially sanctioned matches he must gain 21 pounds.
According to the Spina Bifida Association of America website, spina bifida is the nation’s most common permanently disabling birth defect, affecting about 70,000 Americans. It occurs early in a pregnancy when the spinal cord doesn’t completely close, and may cause a level of paralysis, bowel and bladder issues, and hydrocephalus.
Though ineligible to officially wrestle, he does compete in exhibition matches against wrestlers from other schools and against teammates in practice. He hasn’t won an exhibition, but he has tied one wrestler, lost by two points to another, and hasn’t been pinned. His favorite wrestling moves are the single-leg takedown, double-leg takedown, and ‘chicken wings.’
Remember, he has below-the-waist paralysis and has been wrestling against competitors at least 20 pounds heavier.
‘I had my legs amputated about two years ago,’ said Sechrist, explaining in part his lighter weight. ‘Throughout my life I had been slowed down doing activities because my legs were so fragile. They broke easily. One time on vacation I broke my leg and that kept me from participating the entire time. A month later my doctor brought up options, and one was amputation.’
By choosing amputation he had the advantage of potentially wearing prosthetics and later, of being able to wrestle.
As for his wrestling passion, Sechrist said, ‘I like proving people wrong when they say I can’t do something because I’m disabled. I want to be a role model. I want people to see I can do things. Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t participate in the stuff you love.’
This last wrestling season he especially enjoyed being around teammates. At first, he was a bit nervous about fitting in due to his disability, he said. But he soon made friends.