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WEST JORDAN — A 17-year-old senior, paralyzed from a shooting accident two years ago, walked into the spotlight and wrestled in an exhibition match at Copper Hills High School Wednesday night.
Chance Sackett was wheelchair bound after an accident, but Wednesday he walked onto the mat amidst cheering from friends, family and teammates.
"My coach asked me if I wanted to do it. I said, ‘Yeah.' He said it would really inspire a lot of people. ‘It would be cool,' and I agreed with it," Sackett said.
He told KSL he wrestled not only for himself, but for others, to show it could happen despite the aftermath of paralysis.
"To see a young man who was paralyzed and work his way back to the mat again is nothing short of remarkable," said Copper Hills High School wrestling coach Jeff Humpherys.
Almost a year ago, Sackett was suspended by a unique machine called "Lokomat" at the Neuroworx Center. The robotic system moved his legs for him in the beginning stages of rehab that teaches the quadriplegic to mentally bypass the paralysis.
In a variety of rehab techniques, Sackett was re-teaching the muscles in the legs to walk. The concept called neuroplasticity assumed that Chance, through concentration and repetition, could renew that motion.
Now, the wheelchair has been replaced with walking.
"I have to think about it really hard," Sackett said. "If I don't think hard enough, my toes drag. I ruin my shoes."
As if walking isn't hard enough, why wrestle? At first, Sackett's mother, Michelle, said no.
"I said no way. I don't think so. It's a very demanding sport in itself, and to be a quadriplegic on top of it," she said.
But Michelle knew her son still had his "no quit" attitude even days after the accident.
Before Wednesday's match, Sackett had worked out at Neuroworx with his sparring partner Lance and with former high school and collegiate coach, Sam Arashita, who was also a quadriplegic.
Like Sackett, Arashita is walking now, too. He knew exactly how to train Chance. And so did Coach Humpherys. He, along with his own staff — and Chance's teammates — all worked toward Wednesday night's event.
"To me, it's rallied the team together. I mean they love him to death," Humpherys said.
Teammate Morgan Turner said, "Just to see him walking again is so crazy — like a miracle."
"Chance has the will, the wrestling mind. Though he didn't wrestle all these years because of the accident, it was already there," Arashita said.
Another teammate, Hunter Hatch, said, "Just getting out there and wrestling. I think that's a win, just that itself."
In the end, Sackett won the match, though there were no winners and losers this night. His opponent from Alta High School said he was visibly moved and inspired by Sackett. In fact, after the match, he picked Sackett up and carried him to his Copper Hills team.
"It feels good. It was awesome," Sackett said.