For anyone who doesn’t know already, I lived a rather large chunk of my life -fairly recently- in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Cleveland. Gunfire was a common occurrence and despite my family’s efforts to keep the neighborhood kids out of trouble, it was hard to think that many would have the opportunity to get out. I’ve seen some of the kids that would come around grow up and start the never ending cycle of being in & out of prison, so by the time my niece & nephew were in their teens, it was hard to see their friends come around and know that we could only help influence, but we couldn’t save them – that part would be in their own hands and how can they start that path if their parents don’t provide them the tools they need?
There was one kid in particular that I was always concerned about because he was a very nice & respectable guy, with a tough family situation and was basically living at friends’ houses. No matter how bad things got for him, he always had a positive attitude. I used to think that if anyone had the versatility to overcome a tough situation, it was him and that actually turned out to be a monstrous understatement.
His name is Dartanyon (yeah, like the Musketeer) and he’s really turned his life into one of those ‘rags to riches’ type story lines. He used to wrestle, and I think he used to play football too, for Lincoln West High School. He has a good friend named Leroy, who is also family to me, who also wrestled for LWHS and who is also a double amputee from a time when he was walking the train tracks on his way home form school and -as you can imagine, the unthinkable happened. Well, due to being bound to a wheelchair most of the time, it made things difficult for Leroy to get on and off the bus when they would go to their wrestling meets. Well, Dartanyon being the kind of ‘gentle giant’ that he is and also being probably the only person strong enough to routinely pick Leroy up, would hoist him up and piggy-back him into the opposing school. I know first-hand that this alone is a difficult task – trust me, you would think with him missing the weight of his legs, that Leroy would be an easy carry, but this kid was mostly muscle and that shit has some density – I think I’ve carried him 2 or 3 times to help keep him out of the snow and rain and that was no easy task. So, Dartanyon – more power to you, little brother and make sure you come with Leroy if he visits in the winter, alright? We need you’re assistance. So, now that I’ve told you this, understand that Dartanyon is legally blind.
So, being a very unique story, ESPN had gotten wind of their situation and ran a feature story on them which you can watch >>>here<<<. From that story, they both gained attention from sponsors and quickly found themselves in the spotlight. Now, Leroy, who has somewhat recently become father to my beautiful great-niece, is living in Arizona & training for weightlifting competition. Meanwhile, Dartanyon has been in Colorado training in Judo. I know he has been working hard and keeping focused and due to his efforts, he found himself in the 2012 Paralympics. I have been spending quite a bit of my time here in front of the computer looking for updates and schedules and trying to keep on track with what has been going on with him and finally, after a long wait, the time came. This past Saturday, he finally made it to the point where he had been working for all this time, but in the first match, his opponent won. It was hard to hear that. I know how disappointed he must have been. I know that he’s a person who always strives for perfection, so I was really hoping that he wouldn’t let it effect his next match. Sure enough, he went out there again, facing the Judo gold medalist from the 2008 Paralympics and was able to walk away with the Bronze. Just the fact that he made it to an Olympic event is enough for me to feel proud of everything he has done (just graduating high school in Cleveland is an accomplishment in itself), but to walk away from it with hardware around his neck is something that almost nobody does – and he did.
I wish I could’ve been there to cheer him on, but in the end, I know he wasn’t standing alone. At the last minute, the organization had pooled sponsor money and flew Leroy out to London to be there with Dartanyon in this moment when I’m sure having a loving friend to support him, in much the same way that Dartanyon has supported that same friend, was a ridiculously happy surprise and probably a much needed touch of home.
Now, I’m sure he’s looking forward to taking a few moments to relax before jumping into training, so hopefully, he’ll get some time to enjoy the English countryside, bask in the reflection of that fancy new necklace and hopefully he can get some time back home too. He has definitely earned it.
And maybe others from the neighborhood will look at him as someone to emulate. He’s a prime example of what can be accomplished even when you have nothing but the support of people who care about you.