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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Just part of the team

Josh Hennings, 15, center, and Nikko Guzman, 14, look at the match line-up with Brian Judge, 16, during West Valley High's junior varsity wrestling match against Cheney High at Cheney.
 (Liz Kishimoto / The Spokesman-Review)
Steve Christilaw Correspondent

Brian Judge grapples with his share of challenges. Five years ago last week, the West Valley High freshman, then an 11-year-old at Seth Woodard Elementary, lost his right arm and right leg after an accident with a train near Trent and Park Road.

He had been dared to touch the moving train and was pulled underneath, with tragic consequences.

Since then he has had a number of surgeries to repair damage to his bones and a good deal of rehabilitation.

He walks, and runs, with a prosthetic leg; he eschews a prosthetic arm and faces life permanently left handed.

But Brian Judge wasn’t through with challenges.

He decided to become a wrestler.

After two years wrestling at Centennial Middle School, Judge is a member of the West Valley junior varsity this season.

“Wrestling is something I had wanted to do for a while,” Judge said. “I saw it on TV and liked it.

“I wanted to make a new person out of myself. Before, I wasn’t very athletic and I was basically a slouch most of the time. I wanted to be physical. I didn’t want to be a couch potato the rest of my life.”

Picking out a challenge like joining the wrestling team is in character, explained Pat Judge, Brian’s biological grandmother and adoptive mother.

“It’s kind of been in Brian’s character since he was little, when he had two arms and two legs,” she said. “He’s always been something of a hot dog – he’s put a few gray hairs on me. He’s always been willing to take chances, so I can’t really say if it surprised me or not.

“He’s not letting his handicap stop him, and that’s something I admire about him very much. Since he was a baby, he was very independent. If it was something he wanted to do, he wanted to do it himself and you didn’t interfere until he asked for help, or he would get mad at you. Even now, he’s still like that. He hasn’t let anything stop him.”

In a sport that is a challenge to a wrestler with two arms and two legs, Judge has earned the respect of his teammates and his opponents.

He’s just part of the team, West Valley coach Geoff Hensley said.

“In a lot of ways, he’s just like every other freshman on the team,” Hensley said. “We have to get after them to keep working hard – they have a tendency to want to get out of the hard work when they’re this age.

“He’s one of their teammates and they treat him that way.”

For the most part, opponents treat him the same way.

“I have been very impressed by the way his opponents have treated him,” Hensley said. “I can think of only one time this year where there were some kids pointing at him and laughing, and I’ve got to tell you, there were more than a few of Brian’s teammates who were really mad about that.”

Pat Judge said she had concerns about her son taking up the sport – she figures it’s part of her job description to worry.

“This is just something he wanted to do and he just went ahead and did it,” she said. “I didn’t have any objection once I talked to his coaches, to find out if it was something he could do, and to his doctors.”

She worried that he could fall and hurt himself in ways no one could foresee.

“I had my misgivings, believe you me. I had concerns,” she said. “I was afraid he might fall on his arm and require more surgeries – he’s had quite a few on that arm. But he worked it out with the coaches and he hasn’t had any injuries other than a pulled muscle now and then.”

It was the reception he received from his coaches that sealed the deal and made Judge a committed wrestler.

“They were very supportive,” Brian Judge explained. “They didn’t tell me I couldn’t do it because of how I am – they told me they’d give me their full support.”

The important factor, he said, was how his coaches treat him like an athlete, just like the rest of his teammates. Every wrestler has moves he can or cannot do and must adapt. Judge is no different other than the size and scope of his accommodation.

“It’s tough.” Hensley said. “We have 35 kids and up to four coaches walking around, so we don’t always have the kind of time we need to work with Brian. It’s not that Brian is a tough kid to teach – he’s not. It just takes some imagination to come up with things he can use. It’s tough to sit down and try to modify moves, or think up moves, that Brian can use.”

Which is not to say they aren’t willing to try.

“I was blown away after one of our JV matches,” Hensley said. “Shaun Williams is one of the coaches from Central Valley – he wrestled in the Olympics for South Africa this past summer. I looked over and there was Shaun working with Brian on a breakdown that he could use.

“We have a lot of people that want to help him out and work with him.”

In that regard, Judge couldn’t have chosen a better sport. If you wrestle, you’re part of an extended family. You are treated with respect in a sport where sportsmanship does not end with the handshake at the end of the match.

“That’s an important part of why I’m doing this,” Judge said. “They don’t treat me from the standpoint of what I’m missing. To get a good workout and be able to be someplace where I’m not physically or mentally laughed at is important. It’s a place where I can go and get rid of my own stress.”

Judge has wrestled in every West Valley junior varsity match this season. While he has yet to win a match, he has made great progress.

“My biggest challenge right now is lasting all three rounds,” he said. “I’m learning how to find my balance. Right now, if I go for a single-leg takedown, for example, I’m off balance and they just fall on top of me.

“Mostly I try to get behind them and try to get some leverage.”

“In one of our JV matches, Brian actually got a takedown and the crowd went wild,” Hensley said. “He almost had his guy turned (with his shoulders to the mat) before the guy escaped. That was a great moment for him.”

It’s a matter of respect, and Judge has earned his share.

“I’m very proud of his attitude,” his mother said. “He doesn’t sit back and let people wait on him because of his handicap. He wants to get out there and do for himself.

“I have to sometimes remind him that even people with two arms and two legs have to have help sometimes.”