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Inspiring wrestlers Dartanyan and Leroy meet U.S. national teams at Olympic Training Center



Dartanyon Crockett (left) and Leroy Sutton (center) pose with fellow Cleveland native and 2008 U.S. Olympian Andy Hrovat

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - People across the nation have been inspired by the story of high school wrestlers Dartanyan Crockett and Leroy Sutton, as seen on ESPN.

The amazing story of how Crockett, who is blind, and Sutton, who is a double amputee, helped each other and overcame their challenges to pursue their wrestling career has moved the nation. The ESPN feature showed that Dartanyan would carry Leroy on his back, at wrestling matches, onto the team bus, wherever it was needed. Their friendship made all the difference in both of them living life to their fullest.

Today, however, it was time for Dartanyon and Leroy to be inspired. They had the chance to meet the U.S. national wrestling teams at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

These young men, along with their coaches Justin Hons and Torrence Robinson, came to Colorado Springs from their homes in Cleveland, Ohio, and were guests of U.S. Paralympics, as part of their mentor program. A highlight of their busy day of meetings and sightseeing was their visit to the wrestling room.

The young wrestlers and their coaches, along with a group of leaders from U.S. Paralympics, entered the wrestling room at 9:00 a.m. today. Leroy was in a wheelchair today. Waiting for them were a number of U.S. wrestlers and coaches, all anxious to greet them and make them feel welcome.

"This is the largest wrestling room I've ever seen," said Leroy.

"It is like I died and came home. I came to wrestling heaven. There are mats everywhere, a big weight room, ropes to climb. This is amazing," said Dartanyan.

For both the men's freestyle team and Greco-Roman team, it was a morning of individual practices, so there was no formal practice going on. However, a number of athletes and coaches from both teams were there.

The boys were able to meet Andy Hrovat, a 2008 Olympian who also grew up in Cleveland. They spent some time with Bobby Douglas, the Hall of Fame wrestler and coach who also came from Ohio. They met 2009 Freestyle World Team member Tervel Dlagnev and 2009 Greco-Roman World Team member R.C. Johnson, along with T.C. Dantzler, a 2008 Greco-Roman Olympian. Many others came over and shook their hands.

When National Freestyle Coach Zeke Jones presented the wrestlers with an official team warmup and said they were part of the national team, Leroy smiled and said, "I'm gonna cry."

Like any other wrestlers, both wanted to get out onto the mats. Coach Jones gave them a little explanation of the freestyle rules, then showed them a few training drills. Dartanyan put a big rubber band around his waist and worked on his penetration shot. Leroy grabbed a throwing dummy and practiced some of his mat techniques.

Both of the boys, who are very strong in their upper body, decided to race each other up the ropes that were in the wrestling room.

All of the wrestling people in the room joined them on the mat and took pictures with Leroy and Dartanyan, with everybody pulling out digital cameras and cell phones to capture the moment.

It wasn't long before Dartanyan challenged Dlagnev, who was geared up for a workout, to go takedowns with him. Dlagnev smiled as he shadow wrestled Dartanyan, who was trying to use his speed to get him off balance.

The next stop was to a nearby classroom, where USA Wrestling was conducting its Silver Coaches College. All of the coaches had seen the ESPN video, and were excited to meet them. The two wrestlers and their two coaches got up in front of the classroom full of wrestling coaches and answered a variety of questions.

When asked about their future, Dartanyan said he was going to college in Cleveland to pursue a law degree. Leroy has plans to attend college in Arizona for video game design.

Leroy was asked what he tells people about wrestling.

"I tell them to do any sport to stay out of trouble, not to be with the wrong crowds," said Leroy.

Coach Hons was asked how he was able to help Leroy learn effective techniques without having legs.

"One of the things helpful to us was to go onto the internet and download video of Kyle Maynard and what he did with his workouts," said Coach Hons.

One of the coaches praised the wrestlers, saying that they are inspirational. He asked them what where they able to learn about themselves through their wrestling experience.

People told me I couldn't do a lot of things because of my vision," said Dartanyan. "Wrestling was one of those things they said I couldn't do. I had to prove to myself that I could do it and I could excel at it. I believe there is nothing I can't achieve. Failure only comes if you let it."

"I am a never give up type of guy," said Leroy. "People say I have a positive attitude, that I am radiant. If I start something I want to finish it."

The next stop was in the upstairs gym above the wrestling room, where the U.S. women's freestyle team was training on three mats. When Leroy and Dartanyan arrived, practice was stopped and all of the women athletes came over to meet them.

The boys were able to visit with 2008 World champion Clarissa Chun, 2008 World bronze medalist Tatiana Padilla, along with all of the other athletes who were participating in the Women's World Team Training camp. Soon, the coaches got everybody organized for a group picture.

Before they left the wrestling training area, Leroy and Dartanyan tag teamed on coach Robinson, turning him over for the fall.

It has been a whirlwind of activity since the story appeared on ESPN and the nation learned about these special young men.

"It has been somewhat dreamlike," said Coach Hons. "The amount of support has been amazing. People are touched by this story. These guys are trying to figure out how going through difficult times in their lives is so inspiring to others. They are riding the wave. They are still on the top of the world."

Leroy and Dartanyan were smiling and laughing the entire time they spent with the wrestlers and their coaches.

"It has been a pleasure being here," said Leroy

"From the moment I woke up, I've been happy. It's been a dream," said Dartanyan.

Based upon the tremendous outpouring of support for these young ment, a trust fund has been established. Donations also are being received by the Carry On For Education Trust, Benefiting Leroy and Dartanyon, c/o 627 West St. Clair, Cleveland, OH, 44113. For more information on this program, visit
http://www.carryontrust.org/

The next stop for Leroy and Dartanyan was to another building on the training center campus, where they were going to meet with judo athletes and coaches. Dartanyan had done a little judo, and was looking forward to sparring a little with one of the nation's top blind judo athletes.

When they got to where they were going, it was discovered that the elevator which brought people downstairs to the judo room in the basement was not working. The key was missing.

The boys were unfazed. Leroy hopped down the stairs on his arms, and Dartanyan carried his wheelchair down the stairs. Just like it has been back home, these friends find a way to get where they want to go by working as a team.
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