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June 28, 2005

Heart of an athlete

Lack of limbs gives wrestling opponents different challenges


Tribune Staff Writer

cEastburn-8.jpeg Brett Eastburn finds himself on the bottom in a high school wrestling match.

Photo provided

Eastburn-9.jpeg Eastburn gets a ride from a teammate off the school bus at an away wrestling meet.

Tribune file photo

Eastburn-14.jpeg Brett Eastburn tries to make the 88-pound minimum weight for high school wrestling with a 3-pound lead shot hidden in his pants.

Tribune file photos

Other stories in this series:
Making his way: One man's journey to thrive and enlighten

Third of seven parts

Chad Kling thought he was being told a sick joke.

The LaVille High School wrestler was in the locker room after an earlier forfeit victory when a teammate came back to fetch him. A guy from John Glenn High School wanted to wrestle him in an exhibition.

That's when Chad first met Brett Eastburn.

"I looked at him and said something like, 'Are you kidding?' " Chad admits. "And so Brett said to me, 'Are you too good to wrestle me?' "

Chad said he wasn't.

"But I had always been taught how to use an opponent's arms and legs to my advantage," Chad says. "I really didn't know what to do out on the mat."

Brett knew what to do, though.

"I pinned him," Brett says. "I was wrestling in the 103-pound division like Chad, but I had to weigh at least 88 pounds to qualify. I was about 3 pounds shy."

That's why Chad had gotten the forfeit, not knowing who his opponent was supposed to be. And that's why Brett wanted a chance in an exhibition after the regular meet.

Chad and Brett later became good friends.

Nobody can be Brett's foe for long -- not even after wrestling him.

"I always was pouncing on guys, and when I did it to some of the guys on the high school team (then at North Liberty), they said I should go out for wrestling."

He started in junior high, but not before first practicing on his sister, Krista, five years younger than he is.

"She was pretty good," Brett says. "Every time I tried to make a move on her, she seemed to have this capability of stretching out her arm longer and keeping me from throwing her over.

"I started calling her Stretch."

His John Glenn High School teammates later called him Stub.

"I don't know why," he says with fake bewilderment.

Did that nickname bother him? Well, it's part of his e-mail address now along with his weight class: [email protected].

His teammates loved him as he rode his skateboard when they would go on their practice runs, and then they would piggy-back him into the gym at away meets as if he were their Yoda.

His opponents weren't always sure what to think.

"I know some of the guys from other teams were literally scared to wrestle me," he says. "I could see them thinking, 'Where do I grab him?' "

Brett finished his senior season with a 14-12 record and also did well in summer freestyle competition.

"I couldn't go watch him," Brett's mom, Barb Eastburn, admits. "I didn't want to see him get hurt, and I didn't want to see him hurt anyone, either."

Brett did accidentally break an opponent's finger, and another foe suffered a broken collarbone.

"All I ended up with were mat burns, but I liked having them," Brett says. "They're your badges of courage."

Brett's mother may have felt differently, but Vaughn Eastburn loved that his son wrestled.

"He always told me that in wrestling, it was just you and your opponents out there on the mat," Brett says. "You found out what you could do without teammates helping you."

Like a lot of wrestlers, Brett had a hard time making weight.

"But while everybody else worked at keeping the weight off, I was always trying to put it on," he says.

He often was a few pounds shy of the 88-pound minimum. "So I would sneak 3 pounds of lead shot into my jock strap during weigh-ins to get my weight up there."

Nobody acted as if they noticed. Teammates bit their lips. Brett moved around like a bottom-heavy top. It worked.

He worked, too. He did countless exercises to keep his torso strong and learned some nifty moves just by using his stubs.

"I'll tell you, a wrestling match could be the longest six minutes of my life, but I loved it."

He loved the camaraderie, too.

One of his favorite practice sessions was when the John Glenn team would play mat ball on the wrestling room's mats. It was football played on the knees.

The only three rules in mat ball were that you had to stay on your knees, you couldn't kick and you couldn't bite. And Brett seemed to be able to score any time he had the ball.

Of course, he never had let his size stop him from playing with his buddies in other sports. He learned to dribble a basketball with his longer stub and throw a pass off the top of it. He can throw a spiral with a football the same way.

After high school, he also earned his green belt in tae kwon do, breaking boards with his right stub, which is longer.

He sometimes wonders what kind of athlete he might have been with limbs.

"Brett always tells me that he would be taller than me if he had legs," Chad Kling says with a laugh. "I think he would."

Brett even taught Chad how to play pool. By using a strap on his pool cue so he can control it with his right stub, Brett can sometimes shoot the lights out.

"And don't even think about taking him on in darts," says Chad, who still watches in amazement as Brett tosses the darts off the top of his stub.

"He is pretty tough at video games, too," says Jymm Tripp, who helps Brett at many of his speaking engagements. "He is just one of those real competitive guys. You quickly forget he doesn't have any arms or legs."

He also has played in both pool and dart leagues.

"Sports always has been huge for me," Brett says.

Then he smiles. "So now, I am wondering what I might be able to do if I tried golf."

Next Article: Finding his way

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