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Perry's Max Garibay inspiring others with his big heart

Jan. 23—Max Garibay has had to overcome doubters, bullies and own self-doubt throughout the course of his life.

He was born with achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism that affects the growth of his limbs but thankfully does not come with health complications other types often do. The genetic disorder doesn't run in his family. His siblings are all average height for their age. His parents, too.

He always felt different and like he didn't have a place in the world. But as a sophomore he found wrestling, thanks in part to his father, Jaime, who encouraged him to try out many sports growing up. Wrestling just happened to be the one that stuck for Garibay.

It gave him a new level of confidence and sense of belonging. It also helped give him a new perspective on life and what he believes he was set out to do.

"When I was younger it was hard to accept myself in a world that doesn't embrace it in a more positive way," Garibay said. "But I've taken that over the years and learned that we're all different. I just look at it as a blessing God has given me to spread kindness and love, even if it isn't reciprocated back.

"I found people that truly accept me for who I am. Those are the people that are worth keeping in my life."

Now in his third year of wrestling, Garibay is aiming big this season.

He finished fifth last year at state wrestling at the 106-pound weight class. He has taken on the challenge of wrestling up to 113 pounds at times this season but plans to compete at state at 106. He's found success on the mat, thanks in large part to his dedication to the sport and his strength.

At 106 pounds he can bench press 225. His squat is over 360 pounds. In warmups he can remain stable in a handstand position and walk the width of the wrestling mat in the practice room. And he does it with ease.

Garibay's found his love for the weight room when he began lifting with the wrestling team. His strength training declines a bit while in season, but outside of it he is at local gyms five to six days a week. In many ways, like the wrestling room, the gym has become his safe space.

"I love going to the gym," Garibay said. "It's really given me something else to do in my life and it's contributed to the confidence I have today."

Alexander Pavlenko, the head coach for Perry's wrestling team, said Garibay's development in a short amount of time has been impressive. He never used his smaller stature as an excuse. In fact, he prides himself on out working his opponents.

While he may be one of the smallest in the room, he's also one of the strongest. He also has arguably the biggest heart on the team and inside the gym during various duals and meets.

"He has a ton of heart," Pavlenko said. "He's a hard worker and great kid all around. Everyone loves him in the room."

Pavlenko said beyond wrestling, Garibay is a model citizen and student. He has a high GPA in school and volunteers in the community through his church.

Watching him overcome doubters is perhaps the most impressive thing Garibay has accomplished so far in his career.

Pavlenko recalls a specific moment after an out-of-state tournament just last season. Garibay came to him and other coaches about other wrestlers at the tournament teasing him. Pavlenko said to use that as motivation. From that point on, Garibay has gone into every match with a new mentality.

"We told him to use it as fire and make it a show because everyone is going to watch you," Pavlenko said. "Everyone is watching. Have fun. After that talk we started seeing things change in the way he wrestled, and he was having a lot more fun."

Garibay still deals with unpleasant comments addressed to him at times. In the past, he's also had things done to him physically. At the time, it made him resent himself. But now he's able to brush them off and work to prove his doubters wrong.

His mindset has led to respect from opponents from other schools. He said there are times random student-athletes or parents will tell him how much of an inspiration he is.

Comments of that nature make him realize what his purpose is in life. He was meant to take a stand against bullies. He was meant to be an advocate for those who were born with dwarfism to find a place in the world through sports.

He hopes he can continue making that type of impact as he grows older. Overall, he wants everyone to know that no matter what life throws at you, you can overcome it.

"It's made me emotional at times because of the impact I would have never thought I would have on people," Garibay said. "Just to be that inspiration that no matter what you're going through or what's going on you can accomplish anything.

"Even if there are naysayers in your life or people who try to bring you down, just keep fighting. In the end, it's your life and you're in control. Nobody else has the right to tell you what you can or can't do."

Have an interesting story? Contact Zach Alvira at (480)898-5630 or zalvira@timespublications.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZachAlvira.