Video: MUST SEE - Wrestler with no hands or feet
See Zack Anglin in action in the WIAA state meet.Zack Anglin
apologized to his mother as he started going into a story about his childhood. It sounded a bit harsh at first.
When Anglin's current status as a high school wrestler is factored in, the story sounds like the foundation for what has become a career of success despite obstacles few wrestlers in America have ever had to confront.
"I believe I wanted my juice
bottle and it was far away and I had to go grab it," Anglin said. "So
there was a social worker, she was talking with my mom and stuff, and I
was crying for it. My mom was like, ‘You're going to have to go get it
yourself.' The social worker's like, ‘That's terrible. You can't do that
to a child.' My mom said, ‘I'm sorry, but in order for him to adapt to
things and to achieve things that he wants, he's going to have to find a
way to do it himself.'
"I thank my mom and my dad every single day for
doing things like that, because it makes me a better person and it makes
me be able to do things on my own."
Anglin's parents instilled in him the confidence he displays to this
day as a junior wrestler at Washburn (Wis.)
, part of a co-op wrestling team with Bayfield High that comes from the northern tip of the state. He has the confidence, and he has accolades.
What he doesn't have is full-length legs. Or any hands.
In his three-year high school
wrestling career, Anglin has a record of 94-20; he's qualified for the
WIAA Division 3 state tournament at 106 pounds the last two years. As a
sophomore, he placed sixth. On Feb. 27, he finished fourth, nearly
punching his ticket to the state championship match.
Anglin has always had to work for everything he's accomplished. He wouldn't want it any other way.
big part with my family and my parents, they're always like, in order
to get things I wanted to get, I'm going to have to do it myself," said
Anglin, who is of Nigerian descent and was born in Chicago. "It all
started out at a very, very young age."
The 17-year-old recalls sparring with his brothers when he was 3 or 4.
"I always wanted to win and always wanted to dominate no matter what," he said. "We were always wrestling for the remote or the last piece of pizza. We always competed against each other.
"I always liked that intensity. To be honest, I love to tackle, I love to hit. It's awesome."
He was a bit raw as a grappler when he started wrestling in the eighth grade, coach Steve Miller remembers. But Anglin was a natural right from the start. In his first tournament, he won first place.
"My first four or five matches, I kept picking them up, putting them back down, picking them up, putting them back down," Anglin said. "My coach said, ‘No, no, no, Zack. You've just to put him to his back.' From that moment, I've just had a lot of fun with it and now I still have a lot of fun with it."
Anglin amazed his opponents and spectators with his ability on the mat, and obviously they took notice of his physical stature.
"He was born that way, so that's all he's ever known," Miller said. "He doesn't know what we know and he can do anything anybody else can do. He eats a cheeseburger at McDonald's or he'll work his iPhone or his iPad. It doesn't matter, he's found a way to adapt and get it done."Determined on the mat
Ever since Anglin began wrestling, he knew he would be successful. His disability was never going to hamper him.
"I just do it, and it just never occurs in my mind," Anglin said. "I'm just always adapting, that's a big strategy of mine."
When Anglin first hit the mat, some of his opponents might have thought they were going to chalk up an easy win.
"My first year wrestling, the first time I stepped on the mat, I think I might have had a couple kids underestimate me and think they could dominate me," Anglin said. "I never pay attention to them, really. I pay attention to myself. I just always think, ‘What am I going to do to beat them? What am I going to have to do to get them off-balance and go for my shots and my takedowns?' It just never bothers me."
Anglin's opponents didn't underestimate him for too much longer. He's been raising eyebrows ever since because he's a great wrestler, not because he doesn't have legs and hands.
"It's not a surprise when he does things that are extraordinary to some people, because knowing him so long it's expected of him," said Josiah Cook, Anglin's good friend and wrestling practice partner.
Cook, who won 33 matches this season, competes against Anglin every day in practice even though he wrestles at 138 pounds. The 30-plus-pound difference doesn't seem to bother Anglin.
"That is what's so crazy," Cook said. "In practice he's able to keep up with us, me and all the teammates. That's why we expect a lot out of him because he can keep up with people that are so much heavier than him."
It's that determination and confidence of Anglin's that makes him a beast to stop.
Since Anglin doesn't have full legs – his left extends down to the ankle and his right goes to just below the knee – he navigates low to the ground. Advantage Anglin. Also, it's tough for opponents to grab his legs for takedowns because he pops right out of holds, Miller noted. Anglin's arms – his left goes to the forearm and his right to the elbow – are difficult for opponents to grasp as well.
That all sounds good. But there certainly be disadvantages as well.
"There's a lot of moves that are difficult for me to hit and this all comes back to the adapting part," Anglin said. "I've got to find new ways to score near-fall points, to get pins. I just have to find things that work. I'd say there is a little bit of an advantage as well. Advantage would have to be me having more muscle at that weight, but that all comes from how hard I work for it."
Anglin's strength is one of his greatest attributes. Miller said Anglin, who loves to spend time in the weight room, has an extremely strong core and can easily rip off 100 push-ups and sit-ups at a time.
"He's probably got the upper body of a strong 138- or 145-pounder," Miller said. "That's an advantage and a disadvantage. He's very, very strong -- very powerful. But he doesn't have the length and the leverage with the legs. A lot of times people start pushing on him late in matches and he doesn't have the leverage to push back."Playing mind games
As much as Anglin tries to win with pure strength, he's good at playing a chess match and out-thinking the opponent across from him.
"From my perspective, I like to say that wrestling is 95 percent in the mind," Anglin said. "You've just got to have your head in it and you've got to be able to go to every single practice and work hard."
Miller thinks most wrestlers who have to take on Anglin are scared of his ability. They never know the best way to attack him.
"It's been an evolution because everyone's changing, trying to find a chink in his armor," Miller said. "Every time he wrestles these people they have a different theory. So far nothing's really worked. Some guys like to get down on one knee and try to wrestle at his level, and you're not going to win there.
"They like to keep him at arm's length. They don't like to let him get any closer. That's where he wins a lot of matches, they delay the match and the ref starts hitting them for stalling. When they need to score and come in to attack and get close enough to get a hold of him, he usually scores. That's all part of his wrestling tactics late in the match, where people have to do something and he's at an advantage there."
After placing sixth at state last season, Anglin's goal entering this year was to capture the championship. Everything was going smoothly as he entered sectionals at 33-0. He won his first two matches to punch his ticket to state, but lost for the first time to rival Ryan Anderson of Clear Lake, 4-0, for the sectional title.
At the state tournament at the Kohl Center in Madison, which is over five hours from Anglin's house, he won his first two matches to move into the semifinals. In an epic match that stole the attention of the entire crowd, Anglin was tied 4-4 with Stratford's Macey Kilty. The freshman held down Anglin for the final 30 seconds in the third overtime to earn an ultimate tiebreaker and score a 5-4 victory. Anglin rebounded to place fourth and finished his season 38-3.
"It's always a privilege to get to the state tournament," Anglin said. "It was fun and I did have some heartbreak with losing and stuff like that and not reaching all my goals. But those are all things I've got to work on for next year. I've got one more shot."
Anglin is an inspiration to everyone with his tireless work ethic and great perspective on life, regardless of his disability. If he had to offer advice to a fellow high school student who feels physically limited, he has a few words of wisdom.
"The sky's the limit. The sky's the limit," said Anglin, who has aspirations of wrestling in college. "Never stop believing. Also believe you can do what you want to do. As long as you put your mind to it and as long as you're willing to put the work in to pursue it. If things are going wrong or things are tough, you can't just say, ‘Ah, this isn't for me. I have to find something new.' In order to reach the goals, you have to be able to go through the crappy things."