Friday, March 23, 2018

One working ankle? No sweat for state champion wrestler Jonathan Conrad

KISSIMMEE — The right ankle twisted and crunched and popped under the weight of his own body and his opponent.

"It’s broken," said Jonathan Conrad, an eighth-grad wrestler at Carrollwood Day School. "I’ve broken my ankle."

Jonathan was flat on his back on a mat in the middle of the Silver Spurs Arena.

It was Saturday night and thousands of fans screamed and oohed and aahed at the three 132-pound state final matches going on side-by-side and simultaneously — Classes A, 2A and 3A.

Only 30 or so seconds had passed in his Class A match before Jonathan’s ankle snapped.

Trainers, coaches, his brother — CDS junior wrestler Jacob Conrad — father Jason and coach Sal Cuono crowded around him, most of them thinking, as his father said, "This might be it. This might be over. It looked so bad. The ankle snapped over. I thought it had to be broken."

Wrestling rules allow 90 seconds for an injury timeout. If not repaired in that time, too bad. The match is forfeited.

One of the trainer’s said, "If you can’t stand and put pressure on it, then it’s over. Can you stand?"

"Tape it up," Jonathan said. "Tape it up and let’s go."

Jacob leaned in and said, "Remember Varona did it," referring to last year’s state finals when a close friend, Elijah Varona of South Dade, won the 113-pound state title on a broken ankle. "You can do it, too," Jacob said.

Black tape was wrapped tight around Jonathan’s right ankle. He stood on his left leg and admitted he was filled with tremendous doubt walking to the center of the ring.

"I thought I was going to lose," he said. "I couldn’t even walk."

With the score tied at zero, wrestling commenced.

Jonathan’s opponent, Somerset Academy’s Darian Estevez, tried to throw him around, which is what Jonathan expected, then in a crazy twist of events — perhaps because Estevez believed he had an advantage thanks to the injury — it was Jonathan who threw Estevez.

The next thing he knew, because of the points tallied on throws and takedowns and so forth, Jonathan led 4-1.

"Then I thought, ‘Now I could win,’ " Jonathan said. "Adrenaline was rushing. I had a three-point lead. The ankle didn’t fell as bad. It was crazy."

Less than four minutes later, after limping on one leg, getting called for stalling, grappling, fighting, twisting and turning, the final horn sounded.

Jonathan had done what no one thought possible just a few minutes earlier:

He had won the state title.

Jacob, a defending state champion scheduled to wrestle for the 170-pound state title in a few minutes, watched it all and said to himself, "There is no way I can lose after watching my brother do that. No way."

He then went out and won as well, with a 4-0 decision.

In the end, it was an inspiring and unforgettable night with Hollywood plots and subplots sprinkled in.

Besides Jonathan’s one-legged victory, there was Jacob’s tale, which involved him wrestling more than 20 pounds above his weight because he couldn’t bear to wrestle against his best friends, Tampa Prep’s Anthony Artalona, who was going for his fourth state title at 152 pounds, and Tampa Prep freshman Colin Nation, who had a chance to win in the final at 160 pounds.

"I couldn’t stand the thought of one of us losing to the other," said Jacob, who in every match looked like a relative shrimp to his taller, heavier and sometimes much stronger opponents. "So I thought, ‘We could all possibly win at different weights,’ so that’s what I did."

Then it was almost — oh so, so, so close — to happening.

Artalona ended up winning his fourth Class A state title at 152 with a pin in the first period, Nation lost in his final 4-3, and Jacob took the title at 170 pounds with a 4-0 victory.

"What a night," Jacob said. "What a night to remember."

Jonathan’s ankle?

The ligaments are torn, and his leg is in a boot, and the pain is "pretty bad," and he’s walking on crutches and …

"I feel great," Jonathan said. "I’m so happy with the way everything happened. It was crazy, but it was amazing."


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