Remember Adam Bender?
He became a national celebrity when he was 8 years old after the Herald-Leader did a story, photos and video on him competing in a youth baseball league, even though he lost his left leg to cancer when he was 1.
Adam and his family went to New York for an appearance on the Today show. ESPN came to town and did a feature on him. The Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds and Houston Astros had him take part in ceremonial first pitches in their ball parks.
That was in 2008, before Adam started third grade at Seton Catholic School.
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Seven years later, Adam is a freshman at Lexington Catholic High School, and he's again making a name for himself in sports. He's wrestling for the Knights' first-year program, and he's ranked No. 3 in the state at 106 pounds.
Adam's not a little kid anymore. He's 5-foot-6 with thick shoulders and a knuckle-cracking handshake.
What hasn't changed is his determination to live his life to its fullest, without regard to having only one leg.
|See a photo gallery.
Adam enjoyed playing baseball and soccer, but he knew the day would come when those sports wouldn't be practical for someone who needed crutches to compete.
That's why he took up wrestling six winters ago.
It's been a perfect match.
"It's probably the most fun because I'm really good at it," Adam said.
He got his start with Bluegrass Wrestling Club, which was run by former Woodford County wrestler Joe Patterson. Patterson now coaches Lexington Catholic's fledgling program.
Chris and Michelle Bender, Adam's parents, told Patterson from the start to treat their son like any other wrestler, with absolutely no special treatment.
"I told Adam, 'Life's going to be harder for you. You're going to experience more adversity. You've got to be prepared for what life's like.'"
The message was nothing new to Adam, who grew up hearing it from his parents.
"You can't change what you look like, or what you have and don't have," Chris Bender said. "That falls into a very big bucket of things you can't control. You just go out there and go at it.
"Adam's always done that."
Adam met Patterson's early challenge and developed into one of the best middle-school wrestlers in the state.
A couple years ago he started attending the Carr Wrestling Academy. It's run by Joe Carr Sr. and Joe Carr Jr., who helped build Woodford County's tradition.
They didn't take it easy on Adam, either.
For example, when Adam ran sprints using his crutches, the Carrs didn't think he was getting a good enough cardio workout. So they had him do bear crawls instead.
"That's even worse than running," Adam said with a wince. "It's so tiring."
By the time he was an eighth-grader, Adam was intent on continuing his wrestling career in high school. Problem was, his first school of choice, Lexington Catholic, didn't offer wrestling. Adam's second choice, wrestling-rich Woodford County, wasn't really an option because his parents weren't going to move to Woodford County.
That meant Adam would go to Henry Clay.
Then, last April, Lexington Catholic announced it was starting a wrestling program.
Woodford County Invitational
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"We were thrilled," Chris Bender said. It was a bonus that Adam and his parents already had a relationship with Patterson.
Lexington Catholic's program is very much in the first stage of growth. The Knights have just eight wrestlers, and Adam is the only one who had any previous mat experience.
Patterson hopes Adam can help grow the program by achieving success.
He's off to a solid start.
He was named the outstanding wrestler in the Tates Creek and Woodford County invitational tournaments. Patterson said part of the reason Adam won those awards was "because he has one leg and people don't know him, and they think, 'Oh, that's a great story.'
"But it's also because he's a damn good wrestler."
There are advantages and disadvantages for a wrestler with just one leg.
"Adam's wrestling at 106, but he has the upper-body strength of a 130- or 140-pounder," Patterson said. "I can't imagine being a 106-pounder and him grabbing my wrist."
It also helps that Adam is always practicing against and preparing to face wrestlers with two legs. On the flip side, most of his opponents have never gone against a one-legged wrestler.
"One disadvantage for Adam," Patterson noted, "is he's not as mobile as some wrestlers, especially when they spin behind him. When they do, they can grab his one ankle and he can't move."
Adam has learned some of his techniques from Anthony Robless, who was born with one leg but went on to become an NCAA champion wrestler at Arizona State.
Adam has met Robless and studies videos of him wrestling. Patterson sat down with Robless and picked his brain about how best to coach Adam.
at a Woodford County tournament.
|See a photo gallery.
Patterson holds nothing back in trying to get the most out of his protege.
"If Adam's getting down on himself, I'll pull out the disability card," Patterson said. I'll say, 'Do you think people will go easy on you because you have one leg?' I've rubbed his nose in the mat, been a little harder on him, to prepare him for what life's like."
Chris Bender said his son can handle the tough love.
"Adam's been with some tough coaches, and none of them have made exceptions for him. In fact, most have been brutally honest. They say, 'In your situation, you not only have to be this good, you have to be this good.'"
How good can Adam be?
He wants to qualify for the state tournament next month and get to the 106 finals. He'd love to win a state title, if not this year, then next.
Being in the spotlight is nothing new for Adam. He remembers his days as an 8-year-old celebrity.
positions on the field with only one leg. Video: See Adam as a high school wrestler.
"ESPN sent me a bunch of T-shirts and shorts," he said. "I got a Ken Griffey Jr.-signed bat and an Adam Dunn jersey from the Reds. And it was fun getting to ride in limos."
But Adam's idea of fun is different these days. He's a high school athlete who's competing against the best in the state, with no regard to his physical limitations.
His focus is on being the best wrestler he can be.
"After a hard week of practice and you get to the finals, there's no better feeling than getting your hand raised," he said. "That makes all the hard work worthwhile."