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By the end of the Olympics, everone was done wondering if South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius could run on prosthetic legs. Instead they were wondering how fast he could go.
So was a local athlete who wears prosthetic legs.
``He put a lot of work into it, and even though people say it could be cheating, it's definitely not,'' said Woodburn's Nik Hoot. ``It's actually harder because you have to learn how to actually use the legs, and you normally are slower than everyone else even with that.''
Pistorius is a double amputee, and Hoot, who started his sophomore year at Woodlan this week, was born in Siberia with without the lower half of both legs, the right above the knee and the left at the ankle. He's also got two fingers on one hand and four on the other.
His parents, Marvin and Apryl Hoot, adopted him at age 15 months and have been amazed every day since. Nik played on Woodlan's football team last season, but this year is concentrating on marching in the band and on his passion for wrestling. He also studied Pistorius.
``I wondered how much work he had to put into it to get all the way to the Olympics and beat everybody with legs,'' said Hoot, 15. ``I wondered if they would break because they looked so flimsy. I feel like I'd be afraid to break mine so quick.''
Hoot's prosthetic legs cost about $75,000 a pair and he's due for a new set next month. They weigh about 10 pounds each, and allow him to stand 6-foot-3 with them on. They are usually covered with duct and packing tape repairs by the time he's out-grown them, but that doesn't slow him because suggesting he can't do something is the quickest way to make sure he can.
That's something his parents understood early. Marvin Hoot said when Nik received his first set of legs, he'd fall but always get right back up. They didn't help him back up because they didn't have to.
``He used his walker for two days, and then he'd throw it away and start cruising furniture,'' Apryl Hoot said. ``In two weeks time he was running.''
The Hoots have nine children, ages 8 to 39, and have adopted six, including four with physical challenges. Joey, 16, is a junior cheerleader at Woodlan; Ged, 14, is legally blind; Mitchell, 12, has 16 birth defects and Emmalee, 8, was born without femurs. Despite all that, the Hoots are a blessed family with a big brother who inspires them all.
When many people see Nik Hoot for the first time, they are a little unnerved because maybe they've never seen anything like him before. When they meet him, they realize how truly special he is, but also that he's just a normal teen-age boy who has a wicked grin, a great sense of humor and even stronger character. Only a handful of opponents have shied away from wrestling him.
``I really wish every single one of them could sit and have a conversation with him because he has a very bright sense of humor and he's an all-around great kid and fantastic personality,'' Warriors coach Tony Girod said. ``They would realize once they sat down with him that he's a pretty special kid.''
Hoot wrestles without use of his legs. One problem, though, is that he usually has to wait in the middle of the mat for opponents to make the first move.
``Nik is very good,'' said 1988 Olympic Gold Medalist Ken Chertow who worked with Hoot recently at a camp. ``He has many disadvantages, but his only advantage is that he will have a very unique style. He can excel if he commits to perfecting specific moves and a style that works for his unique build.''
As a freshman, Hoot earned a 21-14 record at 106 pounds and qualified for the regional. There are other examples of wrestlers with physical challenges who continue to compete in college and as amateurs. Anthony Robles won an NCAA championship at despite being born with only one leg, and Fort Wayne-native Kyle Maynard competes in mixed martial arts and won an ESPY as a quadruple amputee.
``He's starting to figure out what he can do and not what his disabilities limit him to,'' Indiana Tech coach Mike Ester said. ``Wrestling is about finding what you can do with what you have.''
Hoot loves the individuality of the sport, competing against able-bodied athletes and finding unique ways to make moves. Before competing, he'll sit on the bench to peel off his legs and then crawl onto the mat. Usually, he returns with the admiration of his opponents.
``There's a lot of respect in the sport,'' Hoot said. ``Everyone has respect for each other. It's an individual thing, and I don't have to rely on everyone else when I can just do it myself.
``I was pretty scared when I first tried wrestling because I didn't know what people were going to think of me, if they'd be scared or whatever. Once I got into about a week of it, I was pretty well accepted. It was probably the people are who made me stick with it. They always encouraged me, the same with all my coaches.''
Now no one wonders what Hoot can do, but instead just how good he can become.