Wrestling with Down Syndrome: Harwood's Chris Riley

Published 02/25 2014 06:27PM

Updated 02/26 2014 09:18AM

Barre, VT -- At this weekend's JV Wrestling State Championships, Harwood Union sophomore Chris Riley delivered the show-stopping match of the day. Riley (16) is one of 400,000 Americans with Down syndrome. But Saturday at Spaulding, he was a wrestler. 

Chris admits he was a little nervous when he started wrestling.

"I was kind of nervous at first, but not really too nervous." said Riley after his match. But once he took the mat. "It was great, really great! Just phenomenal."

"For some reason he took great joy out of trying to wrestle me at home." explained Chris' mother, Ellen Riley. "And I just physically couldn't handle it. And all of a sudden it dawned on me that they have a wrestling team."

Ellen brought Chris to his science teacher and Harwood's wrestling coach Brian Wagner. 

"He's a wonderful young man. He really is." said Wagner. "He's got this great sense of humor as well as this awesome work ethic that he brings to practice and it's really exciting to see the growth he's made over the last three years."

Now that Chris is grappling with the sport head-on, he's drawing praise from everyone, even Saturday's opponent Josh Roy.

"I was like whoa!" said Roy, a junior at Mt. Abraham. "I wasn't expecting him to have a good shot like that."

It's clear that over the years Chris has gotten better as a wrestler, but you don't need to ask his coach or his parents about that. Just ask Chris himself.

"Better than pie!" said Chris.

The match mean't a lot to Chris and his family but also to Josh.

"It ranks all the way up there." Roy said after the match.

"As a coach, we always want to see our kids grow, and see our kids improve." said Wagner. "And it doesn't matter where they start, we want to see them end it at a higher level. And for Chris it's really obvious how much he's grown."

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