Wrestling champion returns without a leg
1/7/2008 9:03:59 AM
By Ben Pherson

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

At night, when Ryan Kocer dreams, he has two legs.

For most people, that's a given. But for Kocer, it's not reality.

Kocer, a senior at Wagner High School in South Dakota, lost his left leg after an August accident on his family's farm.

Kocer's legs were pinned between a truck and a grain bin. Doctors initially feared Kocer would lose both legs. They managed to save his right leg, but were forced to amputate his left leg just below the knee.

Prior to the accident, Kocer wasn't an average teenager. And he still isn't.

Kocer is a top-ranked three-time state wrestling champion in South Dakota, and he was his high school's star running back and linebacker. In fact, his high school football team had already played -- and won -- its first game of the season when Kocer's accident occurred.

An average teen likely would have gone into deep depression and never participated in varsity athletics again. But remember, Kocer's no average teen.

He skipped the depression and decided he wasn't done with athletics.

Kocer, minus one leg, made his return to the wrestling mat on Friday at The Clash National Wrestling Duals at UCR Regional Sports Center.

Kocer had been in the Wagner wrestling room all season, riding a bike and working himself back into shape. But until a week ago, he had not participated in live wrestling. He rejoined full practices last week and made a triumphant return to competition Friday.

Wrestlers are not allowed to use prosthetics, so Kocer was forced to remove his prosthetic leg before his matches Friday.

With his mom near tears on the edge of the mat, Kocer crawled out to meet his first opponent of the afternoon session. Starting from a down position, Kocer worked his way through that match, winning a close decision and receiving a standing ovation from much of the crowd focused on that mat.

"It felt good to get out there. It was nice to feel like things are starting to go my way," Kocer said.

Kocer won another decision in his only other match of the day. He said he wasn't nearly as nervous the second time around.

"It was much easier. I felt so much more relaxed," Kocer said.

Wagner wrestling coach Ernie Valentine said he never doubted Kocer would rejoin the team.

"It wasn't a matter if he would be back, it was a matter of what capacity would he be back," Valentine said. "Ryan is the kind of kid who when he says he's going to do something, he's going to do it. He told me from Day 1 that he'd be back, so I knew he'd be back."

Kocer said the toughest part about jumping back into the sport he loves was the conditioning. He was exhausted after his first match, resting on the mat near his team's bench long after his match ended.

"The only way to get into wrestling shape is to actually get out there and wrestle, so I'm behind in that area," he said.

Kocer inspired many wrestlers at UCR Regional Sports Center on Friday.

Admirers took the time to shake his hand and offer congratulations throughout the day.

"Just having him in the room, as our captain, as our leader, that's been pretty (special)," Valentine said. "Today was great, but having him in the room has been the biggest thing."