COLUMBUS, Ohio — Caiden Hooks, a 17-year-old junior at Olentangy Berlin, is the school's lone representative in the state tournament.
It's a goal he set at the beginning of the season, but after 25 wins this season, Caiden said he even surprised himself.
“I think a part of me thought there was like a factual possibility of me making it to states, but I'm honestly, I guess, yeah I guess, I'm kinda surprised to get here. It's honestly kind of surreal,” Caiden said.
What's also surreal are the challenges Caiden's has overcome to be one of the state's top 160-pound wrestlers.
Caiden was diagnosed with eye cancer at 19 months old, leaving him blind. He also deals with autism.
His father and coach are always nearby as a sighted guide for him when he's feeling nervous or apprehensive about a match or frustrated about a call.
“And he can't lose his mental focus in those tough matches because he's perceiving that his stuff, that he's not scoring his shots, and things aren't coming easy. That's what he has to be able to accept. And that's what's challenging for those spectrum kids,” his father, Jamie Hooks, said.
What's never in question is Caiden's heart and determination to succeed.
“I come home from work, come into the house, and I think the washing machine is off-kilter or something because I hear all this pounding noise down in the basement, and I open the door and it's him down there in the dark, pounding away on the treadmill. That's all him and that's really cool to see,” Jamie Hooks said.
“Caiden is our wrestler. He's our teammate. He's gonna need some help making sure all his gear is in the right spot and, you know, he's putting on the right socks. He's gonna need somebody to hang on to when we're running laps and warming up. And he's gonna need different practice partners. And the team's embraced that,” said Josh Heffernan, head wrestling coach.
And whether it's on the wrestling mat, playing two musical instruments, or excelling in the classroom, Caiden has embraced who he is . . . and those around him know he will continue to inspire in whatever path he chooses.
“Being blind has been part of my life for so long, I don't even really think about it a whole lot. It's just a fact. Like dad said, I'm a wrestler, and a grade A student, a believer, that just so happens to be blind. I don't have a disability. I have a different ability, so don't let your conditions stop you, rather integrate it into your approach for what it is you're doing,” Caiden said.
Caiden will wrestle Saturday against one of the state’s top opponents at 160-pounds in the Division I State Tournament.