Adam Bender contemplated ending his wrestling career. Joining one of the toughest programs in the state quickly reinvigorated his interest in the sport.
Bender, a 17-year-old who lost his left leg to cancer when he was 1, didn’t feel like he was improving much in the two years he spent in Lexington Catholic’s fledging wrestling program. The first-year team was full of guys who were new to the sport and Bender, who’d excelled on the mat since he was 9, was left without a comparable sparring partner in practice. The 106-pounder would go up against coaches whose weight nearly doubled his.
“So I couldn’t really get a good feel for what my opponent was gonna feel like,” Bender said. The Knights’ program folded after his sophomore season, and Bender was prepared to give up his wrestling career if he returned to Catholic.
But, he didn’t. Bender transferred to Woodford County — one of the state’s tradition-rich programs — at the start of the school year. Not only did it allow him to join a similarly-experienced team for the first time in his life, but it also opened up the door for him to pursue his dream of becoming a pharmacist through the high school’s pharmacy technician program. He hopes to attend the University of Kentucky’s pharmacy school barring a big-time wrestling offer from a college with well-regarded medical offerings.
“I’m not gonna go play a sport somewhere small just because,” Bender said. “I know that UK’s got a great pharmacy program and if I went somewhere small, I know they probably wouldn’t have a great pharmacy program. So it just all depends.”
Bender has relished the opportunity to wrestle with some of his best friends, Max Andreoni and Joey Roberts, seniors with whom he trained in the offseason for many years. He especially enjoyed getting to participate in dual competitions for the first time and mentioned the State Duals — in which Woodford County finished second to St. Xavier — as an experience he’ll never forget.
“We had a great squad this year and we were really competitive in the state and that’s just what I wanted,” Bender said. “I’ve never been able to wrestle with a team before, and going to a dual — like the state duals — that was just awesome.”
Woodford County finished fourth at the KHSAA State Wrestling tournament in February. Next season Bender will try to help lead the Yellow Jackets to their first team title since 2006 and reach — and win — his first championship bout. He finished fourth in the 106-pound class as a freshman and sophomore before a third-place outing this year in the 113, which he intends to wrestle in next season.
On Tuesday, Bender will be recognized as the male recipient of Champion Award during the Bluegrass Orthopaedics Night of Champions, a first-year banquet celebrating Central Kentucky athletes “who have distinguished themselves in the classroom, in their community, on the playing field/court, and have been high achievers in every aspect of their life.” The Champion Award, which comes with a $2,500 scholarship, will be given annually to a student-athlete who’s overcome adversity or injury and exceeded expectations upon return to the field of play.
Bender fits that bill, but he tries to shy away from that part of his life. He occasionally receives calls to speak to groups of people but usually turns them down.
“I just like to be a kid,” Bender said.
When he’s not training at Carr Wrestling Academy, the junior is usually hanging out with his girlfriend or helping keep the stat book and running walk-up music for the baseball team at Lexington Catholic, for whom his brother Steven is a senior pitcher and outfielder.
“Maybe when I get older I’ll do a little more public speaking,” he said.