By John Lauritsen

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — Watch 120-pound wrestler Caleb Smith from Harding High School in St. Paul and you’ll see what everybody else sees — a wrestler with no arms below the elbows, and no legs above the knees.

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But his heart more than makes up for the things his body lacks.

It has been that way since he was 4 years old, when he contracted a rare blood disease.

“It’s kind of like a form of meningitis, except that when you get it, it burns your blood vessels,” Smith said.

The only cure was to amputate Smith’s arms and legs. But instead of slowing him down, it motivated him. In fifth grade he went out for wrestling. This year, he won his first match for Harding.

“He’s got the kind of strength people don’t normally see at 120,” said coach Otto Kraus. “Plus, the way he can move makes it hard to wrestle him.”

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And for that reason, Smith led the team in escapes this year. He admits his size forces him to use more energy than his opponents. And calisthenics isn’t his favorite.

“For them to run 10 yards or whatever, it takes them like 20 steps,” he said. “But it takes me like 30 because my legs can only move so far.”

Smith is often quicker than his opponents. And whether he knows it or not, his determination is contagious.

“A lot of parents from other teams come up and say, ‘Wow, what a kid. What a story. What an inspiration,'” Kraus said. “And I always tell them it doesn’t make you feel quite as tired as you were at the beginning of the day when you see him go out there and wrestle.”

Smith said he hopes to be a captain next year.

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“If you see yourself as not being able to do something, at least you should try and do it,” Smith said. “If you never do it at all, you will never know if you can do it or not.”

John Lauritsen