Athlete of the week: Adversity galore doesn't pin this wrestler

02/15/2012 12:00 AM

02/15/2012 10:59 AM

Luke Hedrick has always seen life a little differently.

When he was five years old, he 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 later 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," Hedrick said. "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, 17, a senior at Charlotte Latin 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 N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association state championship Feb. 17-18 for both himself and his team. .

"Luke was a standout wrestler in middle school and had a great freshman year," said Charlotte Latin wrestling coach Richard Fletcher, who is in his 22nd year as head coach. "I think we all thought he would go on to great things immediately."

Hedrick earned the right to compete for a conference and state championship as a freshman but then senior Collin Breeney, who had been injured most of the season, beat him out for the spot in the 160-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 him to get a third major surgery.

"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 disadvantaged 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 (who has 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.

"A lot of people aren't as fortunate to have the resources we have at Latin," said Hedrick, who one day hopes to be a doctor. "I've always enjoyed trying to help people who are less fortunate than me."

While Hedrick often focuses on others, he also worked hard on himself last summer, when he lost more than 30 pounds so he could wrestle in the 160-pound weight class. He wanted to have a chance to wrestle at the Prep Nationals at Lehigh University Feb. 23-25.

"I knew if I wanted to compete at nationals and earn All-American status that I would have to do it a lower weight," he said.

Hedrick has been at his best this season, going 22-4 and he is currently ranked No. 1 in the state in his 160-pound weight class, according to retrorankings.com.

After a lifetime of obstacles that might have stopped a lot of people from even competing, Hedrick is ready to make the most of his final opportunity.

"Just having the opportunity to win a state championship has always been my goal," Hedrick said. "But I don't think anyone really dreams of being the second or third best wrestler in the state. Of course, I definitely want to finish on top."

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