NORMAL — When the lights went out during last year’s Super Bowl, Korbin Anderson tweeted, “What’s the big deal?”
That was hilarious to his friends because they know the lights are always out for the Lexington native, who gradually lost his vision between ages 4 and 10.
Anderson’s friends also are the ones who don’t treat him as a big deal even though he is in his fourth year on the University High School wrestling team, which competes at 5 p.m. today in the Intercity Meet at Bloomington High School.
“I don’t treat him any different than anybody else,” said U High coach Mike Troll, who had never coached a blind athlete before Anderson. “At first it was a little bit different for me, but I soon found out he didn’t want to be treated any differently than anybody else.”
Troll’s only concession to Anderson’s disability is to use him as a demonstration partner in practice so Anderson can feel what Troll is talking about.
Anderson’s vision (he still senses light) was taken by Batten disease, an inherited disorder of the nervous system that was supposed to kill him. Doctors can’t explain why there is no longer evidence of the incurable disease in Anderson, who takes no medication for the ailment.
Troll is happy to explain an added benefit of Anderson’s presence is that teammates are reluctant to whine about minor problems because they see what he faces.
“His teammates respect him,” Troll said. “He’s gained his own respect, not necessarily because of what he’s done because he’s blind, but also because of how hard he works.”
Even though he sometimes wanted to quit, Anderson stuck with wrestling because it is demanding.
“If I can do that, then pretty much anything else seems more possible,” he said.
And special treatment would diminish all that.
“If I wasn’t treated like everybody else, I wouldn’t feel like I’m achieving what everybody else is achieving on the team,” said Anderson, who has a 3-7 record this season and is near .500 for his career.
The 160-pounder’s record is deceiving because a teammate beat him out for the right to wrestle at 160 so he often has to compete at 170 or 182. Despite facing heavier foes, he hasn’t been pinned since his freshman year.
“He is strong,” Troll said. “He’s got decent body awareness. He doesn’t give up. He’s a fighter.”
He’s also flexible.
“I’m strong enough and flexible enough to where they can’t get to where both of my shoulders are on the mat before I get out,” he said.
Wrestling has shown Anderson how to approach other endeavors.
“If you really want to work for something, you’ve got to take it all the way through,” he said. “You can’t do anything halfway.
“If it wasn’t for wrestling, I’d have a lot different friends and people to talk to. Anyone that goes into high school sports is better off socially.”
To get better at wrestling on his feet and to stay in shape, Anderson took up judo prior to his freshman year at the suggestion of Pontiac coach and U High grad Corey Christenson.
Judo has become Anderson’s primary sport. He won the silver medal in the International Blind Sports Federation World Youth Championships last summer at Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It was intimidating because once I got down to the quarterfinals, three of the other guys were black belts,” said the 17-year-old green belt, who competed in the 18-20 age division.
If travel funds can be found, Anderson hopes to represent Team USA in a Paralympic event in Germany in March.
Like wrestling, judo rewards physical and mental strength. Anderson said when judokas are equal physically it comes down to “whoever has a lapse in their mental toughness.”
Anderson, who considers judo a “lifelong sport,” said this will be his last year of wrestling. He plans to attend Heartland Community College next fall before finishing a degree in nutrition at a four-year school.
He’ll carry fond memories of high school such as attending last fall’s homecoming football game with no aspirations of being named homecoming king.
Wouldn’t you know it, the guy who doesn’t want special attention had to wear a crown, but it “was awesome.”