Ryan Victory can see himself being more relaxed at this year’s state wrestling tournament. He can see himself having greater success his second time around. He can even see himself winning a state championship.
He can see a lot of things, as long as they’re in front of him or to his left. To the right? Not so much.
“People will throw a baseball, and it will just hit me right in the face,” Victory, a senior at Wade Hampton High School, said with a laugh.
Victory, who won the Class AAAA Upper State championship in the 160-pound weight class this past weekend, is almost completely blind in his right eye. He’s been that way ever since a freak accident as a 3-year-old, but it’s never really set him back.
He enters the state tournament with a record of 52-6, a grade-point average of 4.8 and plans to attend Clemson University to study mechanical engineering.
So he’s come a long way since his mother came home and found him on top of the awning in front of his house. That was the day his parents decided to sign Victory up for gymnastics.
“I climbed around on everything,” he said. “I was just a crazy kid.”
He got a little too crazy when he attempted to climb a curtain in their guest bedroom. It came loose, and the screw that anchored the curtain to the wall went right into Victory’s eye.
“When I was young, it used to give me terrible headaches,” Victory said. “They used to put a patch on my good eye for five hours every day to strengthen my bad eye. Other than that, ever since I was 7 or 8, I just got used to it.
“My vision has gotten worse and worse in my right eye, because my brain just focuses on my left eye. But my vision is extremely good in my left eye because of it.”
Cover up his left eye, and he can see general shapes and colors, but he can’t focus and he has trouble with depth perception.
But with both eyes available, he’s been fine. It hasn’t affected him at all in wrestling.
“If anything it helps, because I have to keep the person in front of me,” Victory said. “That’s huge in wrestling, always keeping him in front, because that’s when you have the most power, when your hips are centered.”
After 10 years in gymnastics, Victory decided to wrestle as a freshman “on a whim.” Wade Hampton coach Tony Caterisano and assistant Steve McCollister, skeptical at first, wound up amazed at Victory’s progress.
“Most of the kids who are Upper State champs went through feeder programs and started real young,” Caterisano said. “Ryan never stepped foot on a mat till his freshman year.
“He got pinned his first eight matches. Steve and I were thinking, ‘This guy’s probably going to quit.’ He stuck with it, and by the end of his freshman year he had won the region championship, and we just knew that he was something special.”
Victory qualified for state at 152 pounds as a junior but failed to place. He put the experience in his back pocket and went to work during the offseason.
By the time he reached the Upper State tournament, Victory was seeded fourth, behind undefeated Steven Crowder of Greenwood and two Region 2-AAAA rivals who had beaten him previously.
“It’s just a tribute to how smart that kid is,” Caterisano said. “He’s the type of guy who takes a loss and learns from it.”
Victory had split with Tristen Nelson of Boiling Springs, and this time, Victory won by major decision, 12-2.
That moved him into the semifinals against Crowder, who had won six of seven previous matches between the two. Victory’s lone win was a one-point decision in last year’s third-place match at Upper State. Victory handed Crowder his first defeat of the season, this time a 5-3 decision.
In the final, Victory met Dorman’s Mieklo Sekely, who had been 4-0 against Victory this season. Victory fought for a 4-2 win and the Upper State title.
Now it’s off to the Civic Center of Anderson, where Victory will try to take it one victory at a time.
And, yes, he does get comments about his surname.
“It’s on the back of my letterman jacket,” he said. “Some people ask me if I’m cocky or if that’s actually my name. It puts some pressure on me to win, because no one wants to lose with a name like Victory.”
That’s easy enough to see.