By DAVID La VAQUE, Star Tribune
Ben Goodrich has built a 23-2 record so far this season on a philosophy of attacking rather than reacting.
"A lot of heavyweights are not expecting you to come out strong," said Goodrich, a senior wrestling for the Brooklyn Center/Concordia Academy of Roseville co-op team. "They like to wait, so striking early gives me an advantage because I catch them off guard."
The strategy is important, given Goodrich's bigger surprise: He is legally blind. Born without irises to help his pupils focus and with a condition called nystagmus that causes involuntary eye movement, Goodrich sees a world of blurred colors and shapes.
He will never drive a car and cannot even hold a driver's license. But he competes in football, wrestling and track and field while maintaining a 3.92 grade-point average at Concordia Academy. The Guillotine wrestling magazine lists Goodrich No. 9 among heavyweights in Class 2A, and he is set on reaching the state tournament.
If he gets there, he will have a hard time seeing fans from the Xcel Energy Center competition floor.
"He has an excuse to not be successful, but he doesn't use it and doesn't want to use it," said Nate Gautsch, coach of the Brooklyn Center/Concordia Academy team.
A wrestler since fourth grade, Goodrich found the sport satisfied his competitive nature without putting him at the disadvantage he experienced playing sports like T-ball.
"You're in close and there is almost always contact," Goodrich said. "You know where you are pretty much the whole time so your eyes don't come into play as much."
Wrestling allowed Goodrich to be just one of the guys. And he strives to keep it that way. Matches involving wrestlers with vision impairments can be paused and restarted when the wrestlers lose a contact. Goodrich never requests this provision because he wants "to do the best I can and not give anyone something to say against me."
Goodrich's condition isn't readily apparent when he's on the mat. But when it causes awkward moments, like the time he almost walked across another mat during a match, he encourages teammates to laugh with him.
"I feel good about myself," said Goodrich, one of the team's three captains. "I feel I've accomplished a good amount of things, so I'm able to joke about things."
Wrestling is serious business. Highlighting Goodrich's 23-2 record are 17 pins, which the 245-pounder manufactures with a combination of strength and a relentless style. Those attributes, Goodrich said, help him offset the slower reaction time caused by his poor sight.
Goodrich will not complain about his situation. He said there is a "50-50 chance I could develop glaucoma and that would mean total blindness."
"I have to put it in God's hands that I will keep what I have," he said.
Determined to be a normal wrestler, Goodrich has learned to let down his guard in the classroom. He allows teachers to use larger fonts when printing out assignments, study aids or tests.
"They know I sometimes try to go away from things like that, but they get me to understand that it's there to help me," Goodrich said.
He has 20/200 vision in his right eye, 20/300 vision in his left. When using a monocular on his right eye, Goodrich can read street signs and the numbers on a bus -- things that will help him navigate the University of Minnesota campus beginning next fall. Goodrich was accepted into the Carlson School of Management.
For now, Goodrich is working hard toward reaching the state tournament. Whether or not Goodrich's ability carries him to the Xcel Energy Center, his attitude will linger.
"Ten years from now I'll remember Ben as being a kid I would like other kids to try and be like," Gautsch said.