LTHS alumnus Matt Weber (middle) smiles with his brothers, ...
June 26, 2013
Some people are born with athletic talent, and others are born with ambition. The lucky have both.
Matt Weber isn't lucky. Nor is he a natural.
But Lakeland College wrestling coach Mike DeRoehn categorized his rising senior wrestler, a 2010 graduate of Lockport Township High School, as so ambitious he has made his own luck.
"He hasn't been blessed with all kinds of natural abilities," DeRoehn said. "He's the type of guy that had to find ways to succeed with the physical abilities that he's been given, and he's done that."
The 2012-13 Academic All-American has made a name for himself, finishing fifth in his weight class in the regional and missing his trip to nationals by one match, all while having the highest grade point average on the team.
But there's more to the story of this wrestler.
Feeding his ambition were some unfortunate and unexpected circumstances.
Trials and tribulations
On the sidelines at any given match will be his brothers, Michael, 23, and Jake, 19, and his parents, Michael and Karen. The family travels from their Lockport home to Iowa, Milwaukee and just about anywhere else Weber is wrestling.
Both of his brothers have Friedreich's ataxia, a genetic disease that has left each mostly wheelchair-bound, struggling with hand-eye coordination and more.
The severe disease, with which both of his brothers were diagnosed while in high school, has taken away their abilities to compete athletically, something the trio enjoyed together while growing up. Michael played basketball, Jake and Matt baseball, and all three brothers were active in wrestling and football.
Once the disease set in, the brothers' steps became wobbly and unstable. With walking becoming difficult, playing sports as they once had became out of the question.
"It was just tough to hear that my brothers were being stripped away of their athletic abilities because of this disease," Weber said.
While Matt could be a carrier of Friedreich's Ataxia, he never acquired it. Still, he's had struggles of his own.
Fighting his own battle
Two weeks before his freshman wrestling season would have begun, Weber discovered he had Lemierre's syndrome — a rare, life-threatening disease that prompted his doctor to tell him he may never wrestle again.
The disease causes a blood clot to form in the jugular vein, and doctors were concerned the physical nature of his sport would make it worse.
He was put on blood thinners and antibiotics, and he had regular check-ups every three months. Just like on the mat, he did everything he could.
Then, one day, the clot was gone.
"I was overyjoyed," Weber said. "I can't even put it into words how I felt."
Weber got back to wrestling, but got off to a rough start. The disease erased some of his hard work. He was rusty and out of shape.
At that moment, Weber could have turned in his singlet, and no one would have blamed him. Some athletes may have used their ill fortune as a crutch; Weber turned it into an opportunity.
"That family has just been through the ringer," DeRoehn said. "That's why it's so cool to see the success he had this year."
To start 2012-13, Weber focused on implementing new techniques, tweaking them and making them work with his style, DeRoehn said.
Slowly but surely, he progressed, and soon enough he was "beating people he shouldn't have been beating," Weber said.
A role model tries to do it again
Weber's teammates noticed the wrestler as a role model, a true student-athlete who was succeeding in the classrooms and on the mats.
"It allowed him the chance to lead by example, because when he started making the adjustments, he started winning more and seeing results," DeRoehn said.
It only helped that he had a rock-hard support team between his family members and his coach, all of whom fiercely believed in him.
"It's always a good feeling to have your family come out," Weber said. "It helps me a lot to know that, win or lose, I always have people in my corner."
Now, with Weber's senior season about four months away, he is keeping up on his workout routines by running and lifting regularly.
Weber's path hasn't been straight, and it hasn't been easy to travel, but he's always found a way to overcome the obstacles in front of him.
This year, his plan is to place in the Top 8 at nationals and again be named All-America.
DeRoehn has no doubt Weber can make it to the NCAA championship, but Weber will have to put in the legwork. DeRoehn also expects Weber to be All-America again, graduate in the fall and land a successful career in criminal justice.
With his nightmares behind and his dreams ahead, Weber's ready to make his own reality.
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