Bill Garritson, Clearfield's senior heavyweight who took the 4A state wrestling championship earlier this month, earned that honor and a 30-0 season record despite some challenges - having to drop 25 pounds to make the 275- pound maximum-weight limit and having to overcome a junior-year inability to escape opponents.
The biggest obstacle, however, was a handicap even more serious than making weight or coming out from underneath another behemoth heavyweight. For Garritson, what was afoot was the limited use of his own - his left foot - after a freak off-season wrestling injury curtailed its movement and feeling.Last March, Garritson was competing in the semifinals of the Western Regionals freestyle tournament in Las Vegas, successfully blocking his opponent's attempt of a Japanese arm-throw manuever.
However, the opponent fell back into Garritson's legs, resulting in a severe knee injury, including extensive ligament and cartilage damage. He also injured his peroneal nerve - one that stretches from the side of the knee to the foot, wrapping around the front of the fibula to regulate much of the foot's movement and sensation.
Dr. B.E. "Billy" Allison, a Layton orthopedic surgeon, reconstructed Garritson's knee several days later. Yet the prognosis sounded both final and fatal for any teenager. "They told me that I might not be able to walk again and that I wouldn't be able to run at all," recalled the 18-year-old senior.
"And athletics - they just said, `No way.' "
As if the knee damage wasn't enough, the peroneal nerve injury became the longer-lasting hardship. Except for some sensation of pressure, there was no feeling in Garritson's left foot. Even to just lift up his foot required the use of a brace to correct the "drop foot" condition.
After first believing the doctors, Garritson instead decided to give sports a try after his rehabilitation. An attempt to join the Falcon football team for its final games of the 1988 season failed because Garritson's leg wouldn't respond.
"But at least I can say that I gave it a try, rather than always looking back and wondering what might have been," said Garritson, who has not tried to erase his memory of the injury and its limitations but has even forgotten the name of the injured nerve.
Garritson's brace is worn constantly - for walking or for wrestling. It's a full sole, heel and behind-the-calf plastic aparatus with fabric straps that looks more like standard uniform issue for a "Star Wars" Imperial stormtrooper.
Once the brace comes off and Garritson lifts his leg off the ground, the front of his foot immediately and involuntarily droops downward.
While a football comeback was less than successful, Garritson was able to compete - and succeed - in wrestling, despite the physical drawbacks and a new, modified style. His foot condition hindered his abilities to move from underneath opponents (ironically, one of his personal weaknesses prior to the injury) and to push off or drive with his left leg.
So, rather than rely on the throw moves common to heavier weights, Garritson instead had to shoot up from underneath in takedown attempts. "I head to be more aggressive or I'd be hurt again."
He suffered a sprained ankle in a Brighton tourney, with the limited pain a welcome but bittersweet sensation. "I could feel some, but I didn't think it was very serious from the amount of pain. But I could tell it was bad by the way I was walking," said Garritson, who abstained from wrestling practice for several weeks but was still able to compete and continue his unbeaten string.
Garritson and knees haven't seemed to get along during the wrestler's seasons at Clearfield. During his sophomore year, he was wrestling a teammate when his opponent suffered a dislocated knee. Confused, embarrassed and frustrated by the situation, Garritson sprinted from practice and stayed away for nearly an hour.
Then in the second period of the 4A meet semifinal match against Brighton heavyweight Rod Stone, Garritson was leading 2-0 on a reversal when the moves and positions of the two resulted in Stone dislocating his knee and having to forfeit the match. "Bill just freaked out," said Clearfield Coach Scott Tennis. "He was upset and uptight, saying `I don't want to win this way.' "
Garritson admitted he could empathize with Stone. "I felt so sick inside, that I had ruined his chances that way," he said, adding that the semifinal was really a championship-caliber match. "I wanted to beat him, not hurt him."
Meanwhile, the medical opinion is that Garritson is lucky to be walking, let alone wrestling. And while athletics isn't contrary to his doctor's wishes, it certainly isn't with his blessing. "He really doesn't like the idea," said Garritson, who has also returned to freestyle competition after his senior season got off on the wrong foot, so to speak.