Montana teen competes in wrestling without use of his arms
CORVALLIS, Mont. (AP) — Stevensville’s Devin McLane had a tough draw in his first high school wrestling tournament on a recent Saturday in Corvallis. Without a varsity record, the freshman was slotted against the tournament’s top-ranked wrestler at 103 pounds.
Devin faced the challenge, like he does most things in his life, with tenacity and grit.
“You just have to think you cannot be beat and as long as you know that, you won’t be beat,” McLane said of his mentality on the wrestling mat.
It could very well be a mantra for his life.
See, Devin wrestles — and does just about everything else — without the use of his arms.
Devin has a condition called Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita, or AMC for short. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains AMC as a “development of multiple joint contractures affecting two or more areas of the body prior to birth.” The stuck joints can create stiff or missing muscles, according to Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Devin does a better job of clearing that all up; after all, he’s informed countless inquisitive children and unknowing adults as he’s grown up.
“It’s a rare condition,” McLane said of AMC, which affects about 1 in 3,000 people in the US, according to the NIH. “I don’t have any, really, muscles in my shoulders so I don’t use my arms.”
Devin also has to stand and walk on his tip toes, adding stature to the wrestler who competes at the lightest weight class the high school sport offers.
Those toes do more than increase Devin’s height, though. They also serve as Devin’s hands.
″...If you can do it with your hands, I can do it with my feet,” he said. “I use mine to eat, to write, to draw, to cook.”
Cooking is something relatively new that Devin has started learning. His mom, Michelle, thinks every kid should know how to cook, and their close relationship really shines in the kitchen.
“Can you help grab the bacon?” Devin asked his mom while sitting on the counter just after opening the package with his feet and a knife. “I can’t, my toes are too slippery.”
Michelle quickly responded, “In our house, you know you’re not allowed to say that,” noting that the word “can’t” isn’t allowed.
“Here’s the thing: If I physically know he’s not going to be able to do something, I might help. But my go-to thing is you need to try at least three times.”
Faced with only one option, Devin grabbed each individual piece of bacon with his toes and placed them on the skillet. He also cracked several eggs, and he served breakfast for dinner the Friday night before his first wrestling meet.
“I get frustrated with her in the moment sometimes, but afterwards I feel good about it because I realize I can do this on my own,” Devin told the Missoulian .
That’s been Michelle’s M.O. in raising her only son. Like any parent, her goal is to make sure Devin is ready for independence someday, and she said she sees her part in that job as giving her son every opportunity to succeed.
“I’ve always told him from Day 1, I’m not going to be doing that up until you’re 30. You gotta fight, you gotta find your way,” Michelle said.
And Devin has. The very thing that makes the young high schooler special is his passion, sense of humor and his hardworking mentality. He’s pulling straight A’s to start his freshman year, and he particularly likes his art class. He just completed a mosaic-style portrait of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson that he drew with his feet.
It fails to be surprising just how indiscriminately good the art project looks, especially after you get to know Devin. The kid rides — and fixes — four-wheelers with his mom and uncles. He has better handwriting, er, foot-writing than many in his classes. He can’t wait to learn how to drive — ideally a Dodge Ram pickup, his dream car.
Devin himself says he has no limitations.
“I can do anything you can do, I just do it different,” he said.
So when Devin came home from middle school one day and told his mom that he wanted to wrestle, how could Michelle say no?
“For me, I’ve seen how he just lights up and he wants to be a part of something bigger than himself,” Michelle said. ”...When he’s on the mat, the dads, the kids, they don’t necessarily see (him) as, ‘Oh, Devin with the disability.’ I’ve had dads come up to me and say, ‘That kid has heart.’”
Devin’s effort was on full display at the wrestling tournament on Dec. 15.
With his Stevensville Yellowjacket wrestling squad sitting beside the mat, head coach Ted Adams in the wrestler’s corner and Devin’s mom rooting just alongside the playing field, McLane took center stage with his opponent.
He offered a low handshake to his combatant, then the two squared off. Devin’s opponent scored an early takedown and tried for the pin, but he had trouble rotating the Yellowjacket wrestler. Devin’s core strength and flexibility are assets in the grueling sport.
“My legs are super strong, I’d say, and my abs,” Devin said. “I mean, I have to do crunches every time I want to take my sock off.”
He battled from the bottom, trying to hook his leg into his opponent for a modified move or reversal. He was unable to gain the upper hand.
But Devin kept from getting pinned, something he accomplished in his final match of the day, too. In fact, he scored a pair of escape points, including one that nearly turned into a reversal of his own.
The crowd in the gym went wild.
“We keep telling these guys that wrestling is about 30 percent physical and you gotta go out there with the mentality that you’re willing to give it everything you got,” Adams said. “That’s huge and I think (Devin) does that.”
Indeed, Devin does it every day. Just walking in the hallways at school or sitting on the nine-hour car ride to Seattle Children’s Hospital, where Devin receives treatment for his AMC, takes a toll. The tightening in Devin’s joints that puts the wrestler on his tip toes is starting to cause his feet to roll out, adding stress to his legs. This year, he started using a wheelchair at school to alleviate the tension.
He could get surgery, Michelle said, one would help fix the stressful situation on his legs. But the procedure would ruin his ability to use his feet like he does now — essentially as a pair of hands.
“That was tough to hear,” Devin’s mom said. ”...No matter what the case is, though, no matter what the scenario is, we always figure it out. We have to.”
Naturally, Devin embraced the new change. On Halloween, he and his mom decked out the new wheelchair to look like the Millennium Falcon spaceship from Star Wars. He donned a full Chewbacca mask and suit to complete the alien look.
At wrestling practice he’s able to ditch the wheelchair. But each time he takes the mat against an opponent, where it’s one-on-one, all eyes are on him.
He doesn’t mind, though.
“I have a favorite quote from Dr. Seuss,” Devin said. ”‘Why try to fit in when you were born to stand out?’”