By JOSH KATZOWITZ
GOSHEN, Ohio ” The scream that Dustin Carter let loose in a gym here last weekend conveyed equal parts pain and elation. It was the sound of glory for a high school senior who wrestles unlike any of his opponents.
Carter, a high school senior, uses prosthetic legs when not wrestling. He is 41-2 this season and is competing in Ohio’s state tournament.
Carter, 18, is a 103-pounder whose legs end at his hips, whose right arm stops just after his elbow and whose left arm is even shorter. He had the rest taken from him at age 5 because of a blood infection that required extensive amputations.
His life is not easy, but he gets by just fine ” particularly on the wrestling mat. His scream was his guttural recognition that he had earned a berth in the state’s Division II wrestling tournament, finishing third in his region and carving out his place among the best wrestlers in Ohio. On Thursday in Columbus, he won a match in triple overtime to reach the quarterfinals.
“He’s our miracle,” said his mother, Lori Carter. “He’s my hero. He’s my son, but he’s also my hero.”
Carter has compiled a 41-2 record this season for Hillsboro High School, about 55 miles east of Cincinnati. He has also won a handful of tournaments and inspired nearly everyone who has watched him.
“His perseverance speaks for itself,” said Scott Goodpaster, Carter’s trainer. “He wants to win. He wakes up every day wanting to win. This is his passion, and he bleeds for it. He works so hard to get by in life.”
Nearly every task would seem to pose a challenge, even if Carter makes things look easy. To drink his Vitamin Water, for instance, he unscrews the cap with his teeth or with his short arms, balances the bottle with his bottom nubs while regripping with his arms, tilts the liquid into his throat and moves on to his next destination with the bottle in his mouth.
He can do 20 chin-ups with a 40-pound weight attached to his neck. He can lift weights. About the only thing he cannot do, Goodpaster said, is cut his own steak.
When he was 5, Carter contracted meningococcemia, an acute bacterial infection of the bloodstream. By the time his mother had rushed him to the hospital, he had a temperature of 104 and splotchy skin. He stopped breathing and his heart stopped while he was being airlifted to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, according to family members. The medics brought him back three times before stabilizing him.
Carter, it seemed, was being stubborn.
“He had always been competitive and very strong-willed and determined ” always,” his mother said. “It used to get him in trouble. He was a terror before he got sick. He was stubborn and strong-willed. Thank God he got those qualities.”
While doctors attended to Carter at Children’s Hospital and told his parents he might not last the night, his father, Russ, found his way to the chapel and prayed for a miracle. An hour later, when Russ returned to the room, his son’s vital signs had improved.
Two and a half months later, Carter left the hospital free from the infection but facing a life full of new obstacles.
“After about a year, he started getting out there and doing normal things,” Russ Carter said. “He realized he could do this stuff. He wasn’t really restricted to anything he wanted to do. I don’t help him with anything. I might help him to speed him up, but he doesn’t want the help. He’s stubborn.”
Carter decided in eighth grade that he wanted to wrestle. The day his son told him, Russ Carter said, “I knew there wasn’t going to be an argument about it.”
After the matches on Saturday, a district tournament official asked Carter to fill out a form for the state meet. The official said Carter’s coach, Nathan Horne, could write the answers if he needed help. Nope, Carter responded, taking the pen with both arms. He would do it himself ” and with decent handwriting, no less.
That determination would serve him well in the future. He hopes to wrestle in college and would like to be a motivational speaker and nutritionist.
“I don’t look at myself as different,” said Carter, who uses prosthetic legs when he is not wrestling. “I wrestle like anybody else. I go to school like anybody else. I can live on my own like anybody else. I can do anything anybody else can do. I don’t like people feeling sorry for me. Some people do.”
None of those people were with him Saturday in a Goshen High School gym full of fans who rose and awarded him a standing ovation as he screamed.
When time finally ran out during his consolation semifinals match against Dustin Davidson, the scoreboard showed a 3-1 victory for Carter. Knowing the victory had landed him in the state tournament, he scurried to the middle of the mat, lifted his head toward the ceiling and roared. Not once, but twice.
“I’ll never forget it,” Carter said. “I’ve been waiting for this too long. It was my last chance. I’ve been struggling to sleep all weekend. I’ve been dreaming about my matches. It’s stayed in my head too long. That was everything coming out.”
His family, wearing buttons with pictures of Carter, surrounded him as he galloped to his father and leaped into his arms. They cried into each other’s shoulders. The friends and family who surrounded them shed tears, as well.
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt such elation in my life,” Lori Carter said, struggling to keep her voice steady. “He’s worked so hard. After everything he’s been through, he deserves his dream.”