Visually-impaired wrestler gets to Nationals

BEREA, Ohio -- Baldwin Wallace sophomore Jesse Gunter has had many obstacles to overcome during his wrestling career, and very few have had to do with any opponent he has faced on the mats.

Gunter is 90 percent blind in one eye because of complications at birth, but he never let that stop him from achieving his goal of a normal life. Now, Gunter is ready to compete in his first NCAA Division III Wrestling Tournament in Cedar Rapids, Iowa this weekend.

"My mindset is just to continue what I'm doing, continue to work hard and fight for every point, every second, every minute," Gunter said. "I want to be the National Champion, and I believe I can do it.

"I'm just very thankful for the opportunity to be able to wrestle. I honestly did not think I would be wrestling in college. I didn't think a coach would actually take a chance on me because of my visual impairment. I was always told, 'If the world says something's wrong with you, you'll never get a chance.'"

Gunter did not listen to the skeptics. Rather, Gunter leaned on the experience he gained by learning how to overcome obstacles while growing up in Akron, and it led him to Baldwin Wallace University, where he earned first team All-Ohio Athletic Conference honors this year.

"My parents, when I was little, were given advice not to baby me when I did something," Gunter said. "My parents chose not to baby me and learn things on my own and learn adversity at a young age, which I'm very thankful for. If not, then, I probably wouldn't be here right now.

Gunter, who wrestles in the 125-pound weight class, enters this weekend's tournament as the No. 5 seed after posting a 27-4 record this year.

"He is just an extremely tough kid that has overcome a lot," BW wrestling coach Jamie Gibbs said. "He's lived that way his whole life, and it's never an excuse for him. He's a very highly motivated kid, both academically and athletically. He brought in 24 credit hours from The University of Akron to BW before he even stepped foot on campus. He's a pretty motivated kid and doesn't let anything be an excuse for him.

"He's high energy, very strong, pretty coachable, asks a lot of questions, wants to know it all, wants to be perfect. He's a very, very strong kid. He makes changes to his wrestling, fixes his mistakes. He evaluates his performance all the time and gets better."

Gunter proved to be an especially tough competitor when several of his opponents' coaches questioned whether or not he had a visual impairment. Gunter had to go through a battery of tests to prove to the NCAA that he had a visual impairment.

"We went and got it verified the way the NCAA wanted and everything's cleared up," Gunter said. "At first, I really let it get to me and that was one of my big issues. I'm strong mentally, but not when people constantly say that stuff.

"I continued to work with Coach (Gibbs) and got stronger mentally with it and realized, 'You can say whatever you want. I know the truth and I backed it up with facts.'"

And Gunter's drive to prove people wrong does not stop at the wrestling mats. He is majoring in special education and minoring in psychology, with the plan to empower children to overcome their obstacles.

"I want to prove to everybody that you don't doubt one student," Gunter said. "I want to prove to a bunch of schools that you never doubt a child. You never hold a child back because they've been told something. I'd also love to coach in college.

"It would be kind of cool because I'd be able to show other kids who are visually impaired, deaf or whatever the heck their disability is that, 'Just because the world says you're this doesn't mean they can stop you from doing what you want to do, no matter what it is, regardless of it's being a National Champion wrestler, being an All-American in football, playing baseball.'"


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