When he was 5 years old, Charlotte Latin wrestler Luke Hedrick was diagnosed with a rare illness known as Coat's disease.
Six months later, doctors at Duke University had to remove his left eye, and then replace it with a prosthetic eye, severely limiting his vision on that side. But instead of viewing his eye as a handicap or using it as an excuse to feel sorry for himself, Hedrick decided he wouldn't let it stop him from doing everything that everyone else his age could do.
"Honestly, I don't really remember what it would be like to be any different than I am now," said Hedrick, who will wrestle in the N.C. Independent Schools championship, which begins today at 2 p.m. at Charlotte Country Day. "I have a lot to be thankful for. I've always tried to focus and appreciate what I do have and take advantage of that."
Hedrick, a 17-year-old senior, is one of the top students in his class, boasting a 4.4 grade-point average, and is a National Merit Scholarship semifinalist.
Hedrick is also a captain on the Latin wrestling team, where he is looking to cap a remarkable career with a state championship this weekend.
Hedrick earned the right to compete for a conference and state championship as a freshman but senior Collin Breeney, who had been injured most of the season, won the spot in the 160-pound weight class.
Hedrick came back stronger in his sophomore year, but then experienced persistent pain and soreness in his elbow and shoulder.
Doctors told him that he would need Tommy John surgery to fix his left arm and shoulder, a procedure that can be career-ending.
But like early in his life, Hedrick wasn't about to give in or give up, and he worked his way back.
Then, soon after his junior season started, Luke tore his meniscus in his right knee, forcing a third operation.
"We never wanted Luke to give up hope on anything he wanted to do," said Hedrick's father, Pat. "But at some point, after all of the injuries piled up, you say to yourself, 'Gosh, when he is he going to get a break?' "
Hedrick fought his way back again, returning for the last part of his junior year, where he wrestled well enough to make it to the championship semifinals in the 189-pound weight class.
While Luke aspired to be a champion on the mat, he was also doing great things off it.
Hedrick has worked in Jamaica, Peru and several U.S. cities, compiling over 1,000 hours of community service in the last four years.
In his latest project he has helped Red Springs High School (which has a 50 percent dropout rate) in Robeson County, one of the poorest counties in the state, keep their wrestling program intact by raising more than $4,000 from private donations from the Latin wrestling family.
After a lifetime of obstacles that might have stopped others, Hedrick is ready to make the most of his final opportunity this weekend. He goes into the finals with a 22-4 record. He is ranked No. 1 in the state in his 160-pound weight class, according to retrorankings.com.
"Just having the opportunity to win a state championship has always been my goal," Hedrick said.
This story originally appeared in newsofsouthcharlotte.com