FAIRMONT -- Along with the joys of everyday life come obstacles.
Everyone runs into some walls from time to time and it's often a true test of an individual's character as to whether or not he or she can break down those barriers.
But West Fairmont sophomore Jeff Courtney -- a standout wrestler and football player -- has been battling an obstacle his entire life that few others ever have to face: deafness.
Still Courtney is a young guy who does display a lot of character and possesses one attribute that most persons (regardless of whether or not they have a disability) need for success. A solid work ethic.
Courtney's disciplined life style paid big dividends recently when he won a pair of gold medals in wrestling at the Pan-American Deaf Games in Havana Cuba last month.
Just one of three members of the American delegation Courtney was the only U.S. grappler to win gold medals in both Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling at the games an honor that is understated when you realize that Courtney had never before competed in Greco-Roman (a style still developing slowly in the U.S.).
Jay Innes a reporter/photographer for the United States of America Deaf Sports Federation wrote that "Courtney....paced the three-man delegation....winning two gold medals against the best Cuba had to offer."
In the freestyle championship bout Courtney recorded a pin at the 4:20 mark and he won by technical fall to record the Greco-Roman crown.
An amazing feat but when you consider that Jeff's father Don and brothers Chris and Ryan are all former West Virginia state champions at West Fairmont you understand that there's likely more honors to be garnered.
And he wasn't even supposed to be on the team for the games which were held Aug. 16-21 in the first place.
"The coach (Rob Vialpando) called and asked if I wanted to be on the team " said Courtney through his father Don who often acts as his interpreter. "What had happened was that another man that was supposed to go in my weight class couldn't and I was next in line.
"I was really surprised and excited."
Courtney who finished fourth in Class AAA at the West Virginia State Championships this past winter at 160 pounds has been getting a big taste of wrestling outside of the Mountain State recently.
To become eligible for the team individuals had to wrestle competitively in regional events and qualifiers.
After competing in the Mid-Atlantic finals in Scranton Pa. where he topped his opponent from Delaware 6-4 Courtney made the West Virginia team which travels throughout the east and was scheduled to compete in a tournament in Rochester N.Y. but it was canceled due to a lack of numbers.
Regardless Vialpando had taken notice of Courtney and plugged him in on the U.S. team's 80-kg class which equals about 176 pounds.
"There's definitely a difference " said Courtney who also said the experience will help him if he wrestles at 171 this year for the Polar Bears.
"At 180 the wrestlers are stronger just not as quick. At 160 there's more speed and the wrestlers shoot more. The bigger classes are a little bit slower."
In preparing for the different competition Courtney trained with brother Ryan who currently wrestles for West Liberty State College and continued to work out at Slamick's Gym. He had to juggle this with August football practice -- where he is a fullback and starting linebacker for the Polar Bears -- when he wasn't in Cuba.
And speaking of the island nation what was it like for a 15-year-old American to visit a country most U.S. citizens will never see? "It was a lot different than here " said Courtney of the third-world nation. "The people there don't have as much and there's a lot of poor people.
"The hotel was very nice and the food was really good. It was pretty hot a lot like here this summer but it rained a little bit every day."
Courtney wrestled four different matches in both event styles before he was able to claim the gold. He was up against competitors from Mexico Venezuela Uruguay and Cuba.
"I was really happy to become the champion " he said. "I was glad to bring the gold back to America."
Courtney said he would like to do it again when the Pan-American Games return in 2002 but in the meantime he'll keep just as busy during the high school offseason. Next summer he'll be part of a team touring Europe and will compete in a national tournament in Fargo N.D. His long-term goal is to qualify for the Deaf Olympics in 2000.
As far as the high school season goes Courtney says he hopes to be ready to make a run at a state title as either an individual or with the West team.
And of course like all good Polar Bears he has another goal in mind for the 1999-2000 season.
"Beat North Marion " he said.
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