Blind Wrestler with Autism Battles His Way to High School State Tournament

Caiden Hooks has done what many high school athletes dream of but don’t often achieve: making it to a state tournament. The Ohio wrestler is ready for the challenge, and he’s definitely prepared to face a difficult task. After cancer, losing his sight, and navigating the teen world with autism, going after a championship is just one more hill to climb.

Hooks, a 160-pound junior at Olentangy Berlin High School, was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma when he was just 19-months-old. Before he turned four, both of his eyes had been removed.

He says, “Being blind has been part of my life for so long, I don’t even really think about it a whole lot. It’s just a fact… I’m a wrestler, and a grade A student, a believer, that just so happens to be blind. I don’t have a disability. I have a different ability, so don’t let your conditions stop you, rather integrate it into your approach for what it is you’re doing.”

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Another different ability he has to integrate into his life is his autism, which can sometimes make socializing difficult for the teen.

He explains, “Sometimes I have issues with social interaction. I’m rigid in my thinking and I get flustered sometimes.”

Hooks has obviously been able to live with both of these differences quite well. He has wrestled by feel to compile a 25-7 record and snag a fourth place finish in his district meet to qualify for the state tournament. He was the only member of his team who qualified.

PHOTO: YOUTUBE/WSYX

When it comes to his social group, Hooks also has a supportive core around him. His father and his coach are always nearby if he’s feeling anxious about a match or upset about a call. His teammates don’t mind filling in the gaps, either.

Head wrestling coach Josh Heffernan says, “Caiden is our wrestler. He’s our teammate. He’s gonna need some help making sure all his gear is in the right spot and, you know, he’s putting on the right socks. He’s gonna need somebody to hang on to when we’re running laps and warming up. And he’s gonna need different practice partners. And the team’s embraced that.”

Hooks has plenty of accomplishments off the wrestling mat, as well. He plays piano and the trumpet, scored 31 on his ACTs, and even wrote a series of books. You can also top that off with a role in the Christian movie “Walk with Grace.”

PHOTO: YOUTUBE/WSYX

His father Jamie says his son’s hard work at everything he does is impressive.

He explains, “I come home from work, come into the house, and I think the washing machine is off-kilter or something because I hear all this pounding noise down in the basement, and I open the door and it’s him down there in the dark, pounding away on the treadmill. That’s all him and that’s really cool to see.”

Caiden says he’s not necessarily expecting to win, but he feels the Lord put him in the tournament for a reason and he’s excited to see how far he’ll go.

To hear more about his story, check out the video below.

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