Jesse Gunter has heard the doubters. He may not have seen their faces, but he's heard their hurtful words.
Jesse Gunter has heard the doubters. He may not have seen their faces, but he’s heard their hurtful words.
“There’s no way a blind kid can wrestle that well,” they’ve shouted during his matches. “He’s faking it.”
Yet in spite of their doubts, or perhaps even fueled by them in some sense, the former Coventry standout has become one of the best 125-pound wrestlers in NCAA Division III for the Baldwin Wallace Yellow Jackets. Gunter has been blind since suffering severe nerve damage during his birth. Doctors told his parents he might never walk, see or speak. He has one small, fuzzy sphere of vision in one eye that helps him get around, so when he's in a place he knows well, he may seem to others to have normal vision.
“Honestly, I’ve kind of stopped caring. If someone want to doubt I’m legally blind, that's OK,” Gunter said. “I’ve proven if multiple times to the NCAA through tests and if you want to take a step into my shoes, go for it.”
Gunter has dealt with blindness his whole life and yet, he has found a way to turn it into an asset he uses to go above and beyond what the average student-athlete, seeing or blind, accomplishes. As a freshman, he posted a 29-2 record and one year later, he bettered that mark with 34 wins and a trip to the NCAA championship meet, where he placed third to earn All-American honors.
Because of his blindness, his opponents must always stay in contact with him and there is no dancing around the mat, angling for position before engaging.
Having heard virtually every criticism or possible doubt about his condition and experienced plenty of opposition, Gunter is at a point where his blindness is merely one small aspect of who he is.
“I think the thing about it is that it's not about my vision even though maybe that’s what some people criticize me for,” Gunter said. “I’ve learned to be a lot stronger mentally because of it.”
A large part of Gunter’s identity is based on the premise of being no different than any other student on the BW campus. He doesn’t need any special assistance going through his day, which begins early - very early.
He wakes at 5 a.m. and is in the gym working out by 6 a.m., typically with a coach or teammate. He does so to maintain the discipline that has served him so well throughout his high school and college years, as well as to get his physical work in before embarking on a busy day full of classes and school obligations.
In the classroom, he has a tablet he can use for assistance in note taking, but Gunter says he rarely uses the device. The same goes for the any possible accommodations that are offered when taking tests to students with disabilities.
“I don't get any special treatment and I don't need extra time on tests,” Gunter said.
Education is a central piece of Gunter’s life now and he plans to continue that path for a long tine. He hopes to complete his bachelor’s degree in education within the next year and will pursue a master’s degree in leadership in higher education. With his degrees, Gunter wants to be the sort of positive influence that various teaches and coaches have been along the way in his life.
His success both on the mat and in the classroom don’t come without some sacrifices. He has a girlfriend, Gina, and the two enjoy going to plays, musicals and other events on campus, but Gunter admits, “I don’t worry about my social life.”
He enjoys being a part of campus life and interacting with people, but is willing to sacrifice time doing the sort of typical activities that most people associated with being a college student.
“I work as hard as i can and it’s about doing the things you need to do, not things you want to do,” Gunter said.
His favorite part of the college experience is being a part of life on campus. With BW being a small school, Gunter is able to make contacts and connections without getting lost in the hustle and bustle of a larger campus.
“What makes you good is the people you surround yourself with,” Gunter said. “I enjoy the idea of being around them. It's cool to see some people might treat me different, but I am no different and I get to do what everyone else can do. I can go to a play, a musical, the rec center, the library … I'm a big people person where i can talk to and get along with very easily. To me, i don't care if people know who I am. I just like to know that I can make a connection and an impact.”
His impact is felt not only on campus, but in the place where his wrestling career began. Support from Coventry remains strong and Gunter’s former coach, Keith Shinn, texted him during the national meet to congratulate him on his success. In the aftermath of his success, Gunter has frequently reminded himself not to get too high after his best moments, just as he has strived to not get too low during his tough times.
The support of his family, friends, girlfriend and coaches provides the encouragement Gunter needs to continue his success on the mat. An undefeated first month of the 2014-15 season has extended his impressive start to his college career and to Gunter, it is proof that anything is possible for any person if they are willing to relentlessly pursue their goals.
“Anybody can do anything and anyone can achieve any goal, as long as they work their hardest for it,” Gunter said.
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