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Inspiring Tennessee wrestler regains feeling after paralyzation, hopes to wrestle again

Ben Rohrbach
Prep Rally

Only 100 days removed from being paralyzed from the neck down during a wrestling match, an inspiring Tennessee teen's perseverance is paying off to the point he hopes to one day wrestle again.

Through months of rehabilitation, Thompson's Station (Tenn.) Independence High freshman wrestler Hunter Garstin, 15, has regained sensation throughout much of his body after suffering an awkward blow that initially left him without any feeling below the neck during a Dec. 7 tournament in nearby Huntsville, Tenn. Maurice Patton captured his inspiring story wonderfully in a feature for The Tennesseean.

“Wrestlers just have something unique,” his father Christian, a former collegiate grappler, told the paper. “Just with having the strength and the will, the determination, the drive that wrestlers have. I’ve seen that pay off more for him through this whole process than anything he could get from any other sport."

“I think from being a wrestler, he has an understanding and awareness of where his body is in space,” added Patty Antcliff, Garstin's occupational therapist at the renowned Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga.

The injury, by all accounts, was a fluke. While engaged with his 126-pound opponent, Garstin's foot got stuck in the wrestling mat, he fell onto his backside and the opposing wrestler came down on top of him as his head faced downwards, he told The Tennesseean. His father, who was videotaping the match, reportedly thought his son had either had the wind knocked out of him or he suffered a stinger.

Within hours, however, Garstin was undergoing surgery to fuse his C-6 and C-7 vertebrae, according to the feature. He was the one in roughly 50,000 prep wrestlers to suffer such an injury, according to statistics from the National Center for Catastrophic Injury Research.

Since then, hundreds of people have pledged their support, including former WWE wrestler Lex Luger, who reportedly visited him at the Shepherd Center, and the influx of cards and well wishes that line Garstin's bedroom walls serves as inspiration for the teen. But, really, he's the inspiration.

"It's like when coach said, 'Your body wants to say no, your body wants to quit, but your mind says keep going, keep going,' and by the end of those practices you just want to throw in the towel. You're done, You're tired, but you're not going to get better if you just stop. You've got to push yourself to those limits that make you better than everybody else. You've got to stay after practice and work. You've got to work before practice. And that's just what I've been doing now. I've just been constantly moving my fingers and trying to move my legs -- even when I'm not in therapy -- because I don't plan on being in this wheelchair. If I am, oh well, I'll make the best of it, but I'm pretty confident that I won't be. ...

"I've gone through hell and back, but you can't just have all these nice people give you these things and just give up and be like, 'OK, this is hopeless,' because this is your life that you're playing with. You know? If you just give up and say, 'Well, this is it, I'm miserable,' you're never going to get anywhere. So, why just sit around when you can work, especially when you're in a nice facility. Every day when I look at these cards it kind of just pushes me through it."

Garstin currently has full control of his arms and partial control of his hands, according to The Tennesseean. He reportedly regained feeling in his toes last month. A Facebook page, "Prayers for Hunter Gastin," has been set up to track his progress and detail fundraising efforts to benefit his recovery.

(h/t @camsmithsports)

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