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Published: Saturday, 12/27/2008

Akron wrestler pushes past disability

ASSOCIATED PRESS

AKRON, Ohio - Neurologists and pediatricians told Debbie and Tony Gunter that their son suffered brain damage at birth and would never be able to take part in sports.

"Most of the doctors told us he'd never be able to walk or even talk, that he wouldn't be able to do much of anything," his mother said.

Jesse Gunter has surpassed those meager expectations. He's 15-1 on his high school wrestling team and has a 4.0 GPA, despite being blind in one eye and having only limited vision in the other.

Debbie Gunter goes though a series of emotions when she watches her son compete for Coventry High School.

"I'll be crying at the beginning, screaming and laughing during the match, and crying again after the match," she said. "There is simply so much adrenaline flowing every match, I can't stand it because I love so much what is happening. Jesse amazes us every time he's out there."

Debbie believes she is witnessing a miracle every time.

"We never had the courage to dream that he could do what he's doing," she said. "He's an inspiration to all of us."

It was a problem delivery. After 16 hours in labor, Debbie had an emergency Caesarean section. A few hours later, Jesse began having seizures. After numerous tests, doctors told his parents that their baby suffered brain damage.

For three years, the Gunters took Jesse to neurological and pediatric experts who said there was little anyone could do. After moving to Virginia, they found a pediatrician who offered hope.

"She just told us that whatever we do, don't baby him, treat him normal like every other kid, and he'll grow up to be like every other kid," Tony Gunter said.

Jesse has had two surgeries on his the eye with partial sight to help stabilize it. But he has no peripheral vision.

"I can see a basketball, but the players in a game are a blur," Jesse said. "I can pitch a baseball toward a hitter, but I can't catch or field a ball. I was disappointed, but I didn't give up because I always wanted to do a sport."

When the family moved back to the Akron area in 1996, Jesse began taking karate classes. He started wrestling three years ago as a seventh grader.

"The thing I love most about wrestling is that I can really push my body. My body can support me in wrestling, and it's a thrill for me," he said.

He was 22-8 as a seventh grader and 23-2 in eighth grade. As a freshman, he has a 4.0 grade-point average.

"I can't see anything on a blackboard or TV screen," he said. "But the teachers have been great. They give me extra handouts that show the things that the rest of the class can see."

In matches, opponents must maintain contact with Jesse.

"Jesse's story is an incredible life story," Coventry coach Keith Shinn said. "Hopefully, it will inspire others to get over whatever is holding them back and enable them to have as much passion for life and wrestling as Jesse does."



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