Determination and persistence are traits that propel most people to achieve the near impossible while overcoming personal challenges. For one high school student, being blind was no barrier to achieving his dream of being a wrestler.
Jay Spencer, a high school senior from St. John Paul II High in Huntsville, Alabama, won the state title in wrestling on Feb. 16—a first for his school.
Spencer’s win is remarkable as he is the only member of his wrestling team who is legally blind.
“Out of all the sports I’ve tried, this is probably the least challenging to pick up because wrestling is a feel sport,” Spencer told Al news.
“It does have some challenges, but I can ask coach, ‘Can you practice that one with me?’ or say ‘Let me work it on you and correct me if it’s wrong’—nothing that things like that can’t fix.”
Despite being legally blind, Jay Spencer just advanced to the Alabama high school wrestling state finals!!
— Charity Chambers (@CharityCSports) February 15, 2019
Spencer was diagnosed with Leber congenital amaurosis 10 (LBA 10) when he was 3 years old. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, LBA 10 is an eye disorder that primarily affects the retina, which detects light and color. People with this disorder typically have severe visual impairment beginning in infancy.
For Spencer—who has been wrestling since he was 5 or 6 years old—his vision is limited to the corner of his left eye, where he sees best. To compensate he usually tilts his head to the right to see out of the corner of his left eye.
James Dowd, who has been Spencer’s wrestling coach for two years, initially thought the young wrestler could not be any good due to his eye condition.
“I always thought it was a hard thing for him to do,” Dowd said. “I didn’t understand it. I was kind of a naysayer to a fact, (thinking) ‘Hey, this guy can’t be any good. He can’t see.’”
But through time, Spencer proved that he could excel on the mat with his reduced vision—confounding even his opponents.
“You could tell he was a fierce competitor,” Dowd said.
“He can’t get frightened by the venue or by the opponent. He doesn’t get intimidated. All he knows is it’s a pair of hands about to touch him, and that’s it.”
During a preliminary match on Feb. 14, Spencer still had time to find his contact lens during a wrestle, hand it to the referee, and still win the match.
How good is .@AssumptionHS wrestler @jbiii_13? In his match against Independence, watch as he loses a contact lens, finds the lens, dusts off and picks up the lens and hands it to the referee – all while dominating the match. Broderson would win the match with a pin in at 2:18. pic.twitter.com/j1twTSanfE
— Kevin Kohr (@kevin_kohr) February 14, 2019
Spencer’s dedication to wrestling is shown through the extra work he devotes in training.
“He knows that he has to put in extra work. He won’t admit it, but he’s behind the power curve, because it’s not easy to show him moves. You don’t show him anything, everything is a feel for him,” Dowd said.
This weekend, Jay Spencer became the first wrestler in his school’s history to win a state title. And even more impressively, he did so while being legally blind.
“As his coach, I’ve seen his work ethic. He’s made it work. It is a touch sport. It’s right in his wheelhouse. You don’t have to see to wrestle.”
“He’s probably the hardest working wrestler I’ve coached in 25 years,” Dowd told SportsCenter.
After winning the state championships at the Von Braun Center in Huntsville on Feb. 16, Spencer shared some words of advice:
“Don’t let what anyone thinks about you change how you think. As long as you believe you can do something, then you can.”
📺WATCH: High school senior Jay Spencer, who is legally blind, WON A WRESTLING STATE TITLE TODAY!! 🏆
— Charity Chambers (@CharityCSports) February 16, 2019