Tristan Joseph wrestles to do his best
SHERIDAN — When Tristan Joseph faces an opponent on the wrestling mat, he doesn’t care if it’s a friend or a stranger, a freshman newcomer like him or a four-year veteran, someone from his high school or someone from across the state. Opponents are all the same to him — someone to beat now and befriend afterward.
Similarly, his opponents aren’t concerned that he’s in his first year of wrestling or that he lost his legs as a child. They see him as he sees them — a competitor first, and a potential friend only later.
“Whether you win or lose, you can always have friendships,” Tristan said.
He’s one of two wrestlers who will represent Sheridan High School today and Saturday at the OSAA Wrestling State Championships in Portland’s Memorial Coliseum. He and Justin Acuff, a two-time defending state champion, qualified for the double-elimination event at the district meet last week.
Tristan said he expects to face mostly upperclassmen in his weight class of 113 pounds.
Competitors had to weigh in at 6 o’clock this morning. That’s definitely not his favorite time of day, but he’s willing to do whatever it takes for his sport.
“I want to do the best I can,” he said. “When I’m wrestling, that’s what I’m thinking about — the moves and trying to win and doing my best.”
Tristan, whose legs were amputated when he was 2, due to a well-publicized bout with meningococcal disease, became interested in wrestling because both his uncles and his older brother, C.J., had competed in the sport. “People kept telling me how fun it was,” he said.
They were right, he said.
“You can make a lot of friends at tournaments,” he said. “You can be a good sport and hug and congratulate your opponent, no matter who wins. You’re not friends on the mat, but afterward, you are.”
He also enjoys the friendship of his fellow Spartans.
“The team is cool,” he said. “We consider each other family.”
Not long ago, teammates gathered for a trip to a beach house owned by Acuff’s grandmother. They got the chance to go swimming and shopping.
Meets also bring him into contact with people from other schools, some of whom he’s gotten to know pretty well. In the final match of the district meet, for instance, Tristan faced Trevor Hall, a friend who wrestles for the Amity Warriors.
Trevor had the upper hand at first.
“Then as he was driving forward, I got him in a cradle, with one arm around his head and one around his legs and my hands locked together,” Tristan recalled. “I flipped him onto his back and pinned him.”
The win qualified Tristan for state.
Trevor was happy for him, Tristan said, just as he would have, had the roles been reversed. “I would have been upset about losing, but happy for him,” Tristan said.
Once he decided to join the Spartan team, Tristan applied himself as he’s applied himself to other challenges in his life, with practice and determination. He’s able to do just about anything anyone else can, he said, although sometimes he has to find ways to adapt.
Figuring out how to wrestle without legs was a challenge for both Tristan and his coach, Ray Carpenter. That’s because most wrestlers depend on their legs for key moves like the the rock-over step.
“I can’t do that, so I have to do it differently,” Tristan said, describing how he hops forward and uses his upper body to put pressure on the other wrestler.
He does have good upper body strength, and he’s been doing strength conditioning. “But I’m still at a disadvantage in some ways,” he said, matter-of-factly.
He maximizes his chances by practicing intently. “We work really hard to get me as strong as possible,” he said.
He observes other wrestlers, including his Sheridan teammates. As a two-time state champion, Acuff has been a key role model.
He studies each opponent as well, to get an idea of his moves prior to meeting on the mat.
If his opponents study him, they may notice that the cradle is his favorite move. He’s achieved all but one of his pins this year from the cradle move.
Tristan enjoys both wrestling practice and competitions.
Practice is about having fun and learning and perfecting his skills, he said. Competing in a tournament puts the focus on fighting for a win, especially in front of a crowd that will include his father, uncle and some educators who’ve played special roles in his life, like Marti Hofenbredl, principal at Faulconer-Chapman School.
“I’m looking forward to state,” Tristin said. “I’m a little nervous, but it’s OK. If you’re not a little nervous, you’re not ready.
“I just want to do my best.”