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Brandyn Kuhn, road warrior

The Brooksville wrestler is only 10, but he already has traveled the country, winning trophies and medals at every stop. What's more, he likes the travel.

When people tell Brandyn Kuhn that if he keeps wrestling, it could really take him places, he can smile and explain how it already has.

Though he's only 10 years old, Kuhn has been to California, Kansas, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and Iowa for wrestling meets. Whether he's competing in state or out, driving there or flying, there's usually another destination when he gets home.

One corner of the Kuhns' living room in Brooksville is covered with Brandyn's ever-growing collection of medals, trophies and plaques. There are 17 trophies at last count, and close to 100 medals, including 68 golds. If show-and-tell comes around in fifth grade this fall, he has plenty of hardware to show and stories to tell for each one.

Like the way he was trailing by three points late in his first match last month at the USA Wrestling championships in Waterloo, Iowa. He managed to pin his opponent with 18 seconds left, and went on to win his second national title in the 65-pound Greco-Roman class. After that close call, he breezed through the rest of the field, pinning his final opponent in 52 seconds.

Pin him down on his favorite part of wrestling, and it doesn't take him long for that either.

"I like the traveling," he answered, at an age when most children are still in the prime of their "Are we there yet?" years. The family van has logged more than 50,000 miles in the past two years, and it's not unusual for grandparents or cousins to come along as his personal cheering section.

With all the traveling, Kuhn doesn't mind making the hour-long trek to Brandon for practices when he isn't practicing with the Spring Hill Wrestling Club, where he gets much of his instruction. His mother, Sharon, has her share of experience coaching as well, and at national meets, he'll get help from many coaches.

"Whenever we go to nationals, Brandyn is very well-known and well-liked, so there's always a coach from around the state of Florida that's willing to coach him," his mother said. "There's probably not too many clubs, coaches or kids that don't know him, and vice versa."

Kuhn's mother isn't the only one in his family who helps him in wrestling. One of his cousins is former Springstead standout Dustin Swanton, who will wrestle at Tennesee-Chattanooga this fall, and an uncle, Todd, wrestled at Appalachian State before he died just three months after Brandyn was born.

"He calls him his wrestling angel," Sharon Kuhn said. "There's a pair of his old wrestling shoes in the closet he'll grow into someday."

This fall, he'll grow into a new age group, though he already has competed against 11- and 12-year-olds often in the past year. He's undefeated in more than 30 matches this year in the midget (age 9-10) division of his weight class, and at last month's Sunshine State Games, he swept all his matches without allowing a single point.

One reason for Kuhn's success is his wrestling partner, Jason Booker, who is a year older but also has a national title under his belt and has been training with Kuhn for three years. Booker's uncle, Chris Soto, has coached both youngsters and said the rivalry and friendship between them has helped them both improve.

"They challenge each other constantly, and both of them absolutely hate to lose," Soto said. "They know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and when you go up against someone that good every day for years, it makes practice a lot tougher than most of your matches."

Soto said that neither Kuhn nor Booker has a distinct advantage over the other _ Booker finished sixth at nationals this year in an older division, and either can beat the other in any given match. With both, however, the early start in the sport will help them immensely, because they can focus on the intricacies and subtleties of wrestling when their peers are just beginning to learn the fundamentals.

"When Brandyn first started, everyone in the room knew he was someone special," Soto said. "He has a natural balance, a speed and agility that very few people have so naturally. By the time he gets to high school, he's going to have 1,000 matches under his belt. He really has a passion for the sport, and that's something you don't see often."

This weekend, he gets a little more travel _ not for competition, but recognition _ when he goes to Sebring for a state wrestling banquet. He knows he's being honored as one of the state's top 10 wrestlers, but won't find out where he ranked until the banquet.

Kuhn's still at the age where having fun is more important than winning, luckily. Take for instance a particular wrestling match earlier this year in which he went belly-to-belly with his opponent, picked him up and threw him straight over his head. Because he failed to swivel his hips as he completed the move, he was assessed a penalty point. He still won the match by a point and made a big impression along the way.

"Even when we were at nationals, people were asking us about that move," Sharon said. "It was pretty amazing. Even the referee during the match said, "You know, that's illegal, but I hope you got it on tape.' "

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