Kentucky high school wrester Willie Burton could be an inspiration to us all. He ended his four year wrestling career recently with his first win. The Fairdale High School senior wasn’t just happy that he had finally won. Rather, he won against all odds since he has cerebral palsy and cannot walk.
His 6-4 victory did not go unnoticed by his teammates, who mobbed him on the map after he crawled out of the circle. As the Fairdale coach, Chris Boyd, explained, “They were tied 4-4 with like 10 seconds left in the match. Willie had a cradle locked in and he was pulling back on the cradle and finally pulled it back enough and got two points right before the buzzer. It was awesome.”
Boyd told the Courier-Journal, “When he won, I don’t think it had even sunk in yet. But it was amazing. The gym was electric.”
Willie has quite a story to tell, and it’s one that has often been quite painful. A lot of people told him along the way that he couldn’t wrestle. As he said, “…there was no way I could wrestle because I can’t even walk, and that made me want to do it even more. I’m not going to let a wheelchair or a disability hold me back.”
Willie was given up for adoption by his 17 year old mother, and Larry and Brenda Burton agreed to adopt him. Born two months premature, Willie also had hemorrhaging in his brain, and Willie was eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
He went through years of surgeries to repair his spinal cord, to help straighten his hips and more. He learned to crawl at 5, and walked with a walker and his parents’ help for the first time at 7.
Finally, when Willie started high school, he got the idea to try out for wresting. Passing his physical exam, Willie’s Fairdale wrestling coach at the time, Toeupu Liu, kept a spot for him.
As Willie recounted, “I wouldn’t win, and I’d say, ‘OK, I’ll get the next one. And then I wouldn’t win again and again. But then I remembered that’s not why I was doing this. I wanted other handicapped kids to know their wheelchairs didn’t always matter.”
The current Fairdale head coach, Chris Boyd, said that other coaches have asked how their wrestlers should interact with Willie. As Boyd explained, “And I just say, ‘Uh, wrestle him. He’s not going to take it easy on your kid, so your kid shouldn’t take it easy on him.’ ”
After each loss over the four years, he looked in the stands and gave his father a thumb’s up.
Willie will next be heading to the University of Louisville and he hopes, someday, to become a personal trainer for children with disabilities.