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January 15, 2014

WRESTLING WEDNESDAY: Bradford does not let disability get in way of his wrestling

New Albany senior has been deaf since birth

NEW ALBANY — Lunden Bradford is like all the wrestlers on the New Albany High School wrestling team — he wants to win, and he works every day to put himself in position to get those possible victories.

But there is one obstacle that Bradford has to battle each day in trying to become a triumphant grappler.

The senior, who wrestles in the 113-pound weight class, has been deaf since birth. But his disability does not discourage him from competing in the sport he loves.

“He goes out there and does the best he can do,” said Romarro Bradford, Lunden’s younger brother and a 126-pound junior grappler for the Bulldogs. “After he’s done with his match, he comes over and listens to me. I tell him what he did wrong and I tell him what he did right. In every match, he does a good job. He always tries his moves.”

Lunden Bradford joined the New Albany wrestling program last year as a 106-pound grappler after never participating in the sport in his early years. He decided to join the Bulldogs to compete alongside his brother.

“I talked him into joining. When it comes to wrestling, that’s really what brings us together,” said Romarro Bradford, who sports a 14-6 record this season. “Being his second year, he’s gotten better. He’s progressed. He really tries to learn the moves. He really does go out there and put 110 percent into it. He can’t put himself down because it’s only been his second year.”

Wins have been hard to come by for Lunden Bradford the past two years. He has gotten several victories this season, but all of them have been by forfeit.

But this past summer, he picked up his first victory in his wrestling career in a Kentucky state championship meet.

New Albany junior Hunter Castleberry, who helps Lunden Bradford with his wrestling moves, says the win gave his teammate a huge confidence boost.

“He got real excited about that,” Castleberry said. “He’s progressed a lot. I try to give him confidence like I do to a lot of the kids. I try to tell him to go out there and try things. At first, he would go out there and mess with the kids. I would tell him to go out and take a shot.

“That’s what I try to teach him — to go after people. That’s what I stress to him and the other kids a lot.”

Lunden Bradford can wear his hearing aids during practice. But when he weighs in before a meet and most importantly when he competes in matches, the referees will not allow him to wear his hearing aid.

According to New Albany wrestling coach Eric Burres, Bradford cannot use his hearing aid during a match for safety purposes.

“I think more than anything it’s just so he won’t get hurt,” Burres said. “The headgear can get pulled down and ripped, and [the hearing aid] could cause some damage. It could break the hearing aid.”

A certain protocol is followed when Bradford competes in matches.

Before the match, one of the Bulldog coaches will inform the referee that Bradford is deaf. During the match, the referee must tap Bradford on the shoulder when a period starts and ends.

Romarro Bradford is pretty much on his own when the match starts.

“He has to try to think about the moves on his own,” the younger Bradford said. “It’s hard for all wrestlers to hear with their headgear on. But he can’t wear his hearing aids out there, so he really can’t hear.”

For Burres, he must give instructions or advice to Lunden during a match in a different way. Instead of shouting guidance to Bradford while the match is in progress, he demonstrates maneuvers to his grappler during breaks in the match.

“I usually do a lot of stuff with my hands,” Burres said. “It’s tough. It’s not like as he’s wrestling, he can look over at you because he’s got to keep his eyes on the competitor. Now when there are breaks in the matches, you can do it by having him reading my lips or I’ll grab a hold of somebody and show him.

“The best thing that I found is I’ll grab a hold of someone and I’ll start showing moves on that person that I want him to do.”

Despite dealing with his disability during matches, Lunden Bradford gets plenty of support from his teammates and coaches.

“During a match, he gets a lot of help,” Romarro said. “I try to get into a position where he can see me. If he looks up, I tell him what to do. In his first year wrestling, Hunter Castleberry helped him a lot. Sometimes after a meet if I really think he needed some really big help, we’ll wrestle at home a little bit. When he’s at practice, he gets a lot of help from me and Hunter.”

Lunden Bradford seems to not be bothered about being prevented from wearing his hearing aids during a match. When asked if he thought that ruling is fair, he gave a simple answer.

“Yes,” said Lunden, who also has a speech impediment.

Castleberry says not wearing a hearing aid can work to the senior’s advantage.

“It definitely hurts him, but it also can help him in a way because he remains focused when he’s out there,” Castleberry said. “He overcomes a lot of it just by working hard. He really tries to watch and learn. He really wants to be good and you can tell by how he wrestles.”

Lunden Bradford’s perseverance to perform on the mat has been an inspiration to his teammates, especially his brother.

“Him winning [last summer in Kentucky] was a really good thing to me. It inspires me more to work hard,” Romarro Bradford said. “He has the heart to come out here and do something while dealing with a disability. Not only is he hearing impaired, he has a speech impediment as well. Him coming out here and wrestling is a really good inspiration for me.”

Burres says the supreme effort that Lunden gives in practices and matches proves he does not let his disability stand in his way.

“He’s completely fine with it,” Burres said. “He gets discouraged because he’s competitive and he wants to win. I don’t think he gets discouraged because of his disability. He gets discouraged because he wants to do well.

“He’s just like all these other kids — they want to win and not everybody is going to win.”

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