Armless/Legless Wrestler Dustin Carter in College: An Update
Some of you may remember Dustin Carter, the Hillsboro, Ohio wrestler who lost his arms and legs as a child, took up wrestling, and made it into the Ohio HS state tournament. (I've posted stories about him here, and he was the subject of a Steve Hartman "Assignment America" piece for The CBS Evening News.
Here's an update from the Sunday Cincinnati Enquirer about Dustin's struggles as a college wrestler and student at Mount Saint Joseph, a small college in the western suburbs of Cincinnati.
To see more photos of Dustin (including images of him in high school), visit the "Dustin Carter" photo album at Amateur Wrestling Fan Addicts Photo Annex http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Amateu...s/album/0/list
College's new challenges
By John Erardi ? email@example.com ? February 8, 2009
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Just got back from wrestling camp in Albany, N.Y., today. Had a speaking engagement there. Walked into my dorm room and found a note on my pillow from my girlfriend, er, make that ex-girlfriend. Says she's breaking up with me. ... I just know my father's going to lose his job at the auto plant in Moraine. He can see it coming. ... I'm struggling with wrestling. Will I even win a match this season? I miss being the top dog like I was in high school! Was it last year - or 10 years ago - that I was on top of the mountain, wrestling at state? I wonder if I'll ever have that feeling again? ... I can see I'm going to run out of money for college by the end of spring semester. ... I've used most of the $26,000 I earned in speaking engagements to pay for my schooling. The Mount isn't cheap. . ... I'm wondering what I should major in. Athletic training, maybe? The Mount doesn't offer health or nutrition majors, the two things I'm most interested in. Not sure what to do. ... At least I did well last semester - 2.4 GPA. Sweet!
- Dustin Carter, freshman, College of Mount St. Joseph, late November 2008
If Dustin Carter were keeping a diary, the entry above is how it might have read.
"I messed up," he says.
As he says it, he is fixing himself a turkey and cheese sandwich in the dorm room he shares with two other freshman athletes on the Mount St. Joseph wrestling team. Only minutes earlier, he had climbed atop a table in Jeff Hillard's classroom and told his story, all because somebody asked.
Carter reaches inside the fridge for a carton of Muscle Milk.
"Can't get Muscle Milk in the cafeteria," he says. "That's one reason I eat in my room. I can fix what I want, eat what I want. Wrestling is still important to me."
Important? Yes. Important enough? No.
It's the difference, he says.
The wunderkind from Hillsboro, the tenacious kid who at age 5 had parts of all four limbs amputated to save him from a rare blood disease, is now going through more changes.
Changes like most college freshmen go through.
He's not the kid he used to be. He's trying to figure out who he is. He is 0-11 in his first season of college wrestling.
"It sucks," he says of his inability to win a college match.
? Photos: Dustin Carter in College
? Carter?s final high school match
But he says he is getting what he deserves. No "woe is me." He is a college wrestler now, and there are no cupcakes in the competition.
After a semester of bulking up on Muscle Milk - and everything else legal he can get - he hasn't been able to get near 125 pounds, the lowest college weight class. He's 116 now and wishes he had worked harder to put on weight last summer. ("That's no excuse," he says.) He wrestled at 103 in high school, where he was muscle-on-muscle, shoulders like a yoke, six-pack abs.
"Ripped," he remembers, grinning. "That's how I got the ladies - I was sexy!"
Ah, the ladies.
He sighs, stops, shakes his head. The ladies.
"We should've went to different colleges," he says of his year-long girlfriend.
And the breakup?
"Worst thing I've ever been through," he says.
"Do you remember when I told you when I was a (high school) sophomore and junior that I didn't need the distractions of a girlfriend?" Carter asks. "Well, I was smart when I said that. I didn't listen to myself. Even when I had a girlfriend as a senior, wrestling came first. But I didn't have that attitude this summer. I got stupid. I got soft."
Carter was 41-4 as a high school senior at Hillsboro. He fulfilled his dream of making it to the state tournament and wrestling in the Schottenstein Center at Ohio State University, where he won a match and made national news.
A two-page photo of him wrestling at the High School Senior Nationals three weeks later in Virginia Beach, Va., was one of only 28 images displayed in Sports Illustrated's "Pictures of the Year" issue last December.
"State was the highlight of my life, no doubt. The most wonderful thing that eve happened to me," says Carter, whose face still lights up at the mere mention of it.
Last Tuesday, when he climbed atop the tabletop in his Basic Writing class, he described the state-tournament experience as "the greatest time of my life."
"Wanna see my tattoo?" he asked his classmates.
He turned and raised his shirt to reveal the red-and-white block "O" with green at its base. "That's the thing that was in the middle of the floor (at the Schottenstein Center). Four hours of crying (in the tattoo parlor) for that - and worth every second of it."
How do you repeat that? How do you find that moment in your life again even if it isn't as a wrestler? What do you do for an encore?
A classmate asked Carter that very question last Tuesday.
He didn't have an answer - not exactly.
"I haven't figured it out yet - I'm just living right now," he says. "I had a dream and I worked hard for that dream, and now I need another dream."
So much of Carter's identity was tied up with wrestling, beginning when he was an eighth-grader. He found a mission. Not just an extracurricular activity, but something to define him and mold him and identify him. He thought he'd become who he wanted to be at the state tournament, but long before that he had become somebody special to others.
"I thought about wrestling 24-7," he remembers. "How can I get better? What new techniques can I learn? What am I going to do against my opponent this afternoon at the meet? Even when I was with my girlfriend, I was thinking about wrestling."
Not so much lately.
"I've done some stupid things. Some big; some not so big. I wore my coach's coat one day to warm up. I don't know what I was thinking - probably nothing. That's usually what I'm thinking when I get into trouble: nothing. Coach treated me like he'd treat anybody else, the way I'd want him to."
One difference between Carter and so many other college freshmen is that people at the Mount and at wrestling meets pay a little more attention to who he is and what he's up to, all because he's a familiar figure in the Tristate.
"I've been rude to some people," he admits. "That never happened in high school. People say, 'Hi, hey, you're Dustin Carter!' I hear that a lot. Yeah, I've been rude. I don't even know what's gotten into me at times. Maybe I was tired of being me. Maybe I was just acting out. I don't know. But it's not me."
Could Carter live without wrestling?
"No," he says. "Even when I can't wrestle anymore, I want to coach. I love wrestling. I want to expose more kids and more people to it. I can do that."
Carter has a new set of "legs," as he calls his prosthetics. But they aren't as sleek and refined as his previous set, which he used a lot at Hillsboro High.
"I've only used the new ones maybe three times," he says. "I didn't wear 'em at all for a year. I feel so much more comfortable without 'em. I get along pretty good without 'em. I should use 'em."
It's a few hundred yards from his dorm room to his classrooms. He has figured out places he can roll to (leaning on a wheelchair and pushing it along) and can bounce to (along the floor or sidewalk) in that waterbug movement of his, a scooch that gets him moving as fast as anybody with two long legs can walk. Carter scooches up three flight of stairs as fast as anybody, without even breathing hard.
He's still Dustin Carter - he just doesn't know it.
Carter wants to buy a car and learn to drive this summer. He wants to get it retrofitted so he can be his own man.
"I really, really want to get a car," he says. "It's my No. 1 priority. I want to be able to do stuff, instead of depending on somebody else for rides. I want to be able to go home to Hillsboro when I want to. I want to go to my sister's. I want to go work out. I want to go see my grandparents."
Would it really make life easier?
"I don't think it would," says Dustin's father, Russ.
Russ lost his job two days before Christmas.
"I don't want him on the road yet," Russ says. "He's not ready for that. He needs to mature."
It's what any father would say. And, of course, he is right.
But Dustin is 19 and he wants to have the kind of fun that so many other college freshmen have, especially when they come home from school and get reacquainted with their cars.
Carter stayed at the Mount for a few days during Christmas break. He also spent some time at his sister's place, and some at home with his dad.
"I did a lot of thinking when I was here (in the dorm)," he says. "I thought about how much I have slipped. I thought about my dad some, too. I've seen him get the short end of the stick a lot in his life. But I've never seen him break. In high school, I'd be home and he'd give me a few bucks to go down to the grocery store to get some snacks. I took it for granted. I didn't know he didn't have that extra money to give me. He was doing without something so he could give something to me."
Carter is in a good place. He just needs to come to grips with it.
Mount St. Joseph is small, both in physical size and in enrollment.
Whether the Mount remains right for Carter beyond this semester or next year is for him to decide. He is trying to discern a career path - health teacher and coach, or dietitian who trains sophisticated athletes?
His money is running out. The Mount is expensive.
"I love nutrition," Carter says. "I ask myself, what's in food that helps you? What's in it that hurts you? What is the turkey sandwich I just ate for lunch going to do for me or not going to do for me? I got interested in all that when I was cutting weight for wrestling, especially my senior year."
Carter probably could make a career of motivational speaking, or at least some side income. He made $26,000 in speaking engagements after he wrestled at state last year, $20,000 of it for one night's work.
"He had 300 guys who probably manage a billion dollars - or at least it was a billion dollars - eating out of his hand one night last year," says former TV sports anchor Donn Burrows, who has done film work on Carter. "Dustin is good. He has a great story, and he delivers it well. He's a natural. He just needs more experience, that's all."
And, of course, Carter needs to continue to build his story.
What speech would Carter give to 300 professionals now?
"I'd say: You only get one life. What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want people to say of you when you're gone? That you were a good person? Or that you were a piece of (garbage)?
"Did you take something that was bad and try to prosper from it? Or did you just play around and act stupid? It's up to you."
Carter is talking to himself now.
It is a start.