It's not rare for a high school wrestler to acknowledge a crowd if he or she receives significant applause, stopping to look around at the fans in the stands. Dayton (Nev.) High's Danny Alcantara doesn't do that, for a perfectly justifiable reason: He's blind.
According to a story in the Reno Gazette-Journal, Alcantara has entered his first season of competitive wrestling despite being completely blind. The 14-year-old developed retinoblastoma and lost all of his eyesight by the age of 3, leaving him and his family to cope with a lifetime without vision.
Alcantara said he isn't envious of those that have sight, or angry with the cards that life has dealt him. Instead, he said that he turned to wrestling to try and improve his self confidence, which he said has always been low because he couldn't do so many of the daily tasks his friends and family can.
"I really don't mind that I'm blind," Alcantara told the Gazette-Journal. "It's given me a better life in a lot of ways, I think. I never had that much self-confidence so I wanted to build some. I just wanted to prove to myself that I wasn't weak. I can't play basketball, can't play football. [Wrestling has] been a long time coming. I've thought about it before. Finally, I just decided to step up to the plate and do it."
As one might expect, the early season has seen plenty of struggles for Nevada's first blind wrestler. Alcantara has yet to earn a win in one of his bouts, and so far has failed to advance out of the first period without getting pinned, though his coach and teammates are optimistic he'll do so soon, based on the progress he has made.
That progress certainly doesn't follow traditional patterns, either. Dayton coach Sal Aquino said coaching a blind wrestler has forced him to question every aspect of how he teaches the sport, learning new ways to physically demonstrate points he's trying to make as opposed to giving verbal instructions.
"To teach him is something else," Aquino said. "It's not like with the other kids, where you show them the stance or the move and they can see you do it and then do the same thing. But with Danny, you have to let him feel your position and feel every move. I'm learning a lot."
Making the challenge that much more difficult is that Alcantara had never wrestled before, and suddenly as a freshman he was taking the mat against four-year lettermen and reigning state champions.
"He's got a big heart," Aquino said. "I wish some of my other kids had as big a heart. Some of them do, but Danny is special.
"He's got a ways to go but he's getting there and he's not afraid."
The lack of success on the mat has hardly dimmed Alcantara's enthusiasm for the sport, or the feeling that he's already achieved much of what he set out for just by being a part of the team. Winning a bout may be one of Alcantara's eventual goals, but for now, he's reveling in learning a new sport and winning over an entire team of new friends.
"They know that I'm blind but they teach me as much as they can. I know they're behind me 100 percent," Alcantara told the Gazette-Journal. "They show me support and it's given me a great love for this team.
"Even though I haven't won, I know I've fought good. I just want to get better. Even though I lose, they always give me credit for what I did. That makes me feel good in myself. Even though I come out a loser on the scoreboard, I come out a winner in my heart."