A New York wrestling fan wouldn’t have been faulted for a doing a double take in May at the Cadet Greco Roman New York state championships during the 182-pound third place match.
In that bout, Aaron Paddock took the bronze with a 2-1, 3-2 victory over Dakota White.
Could it be the same competitor who earned sixth at the New York state championships in a weight class 79 pounds lighter about 14 months earlier? Could it be the same individual who wasn’t sure just a few months before whether he would ever lace up his wrestling shoes again?
The weekend represented a new chapter of the “miracle” comeback story of the Warsaw freshman, who spent significant time in a coma after a backyard accident led to severe head trauma in August of 2011. At the time of the incident, doctors feared that he wouldn’t survive, or that if he did, he may never speak or walk again.
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However, Paddock made an incredible recovery and returned to school after a 17-week absence in January of 2012, saying he felt “back to [his] old self.” He even put on a Warsaw uniform again, joining the track team.
“He ran track but he didn’t compete very much because he broke his big toe early on,” Brad Paddock said. “He told me he didn’t really like it much anyway – he just wanted to wrestle.”
There wasn’t much question that he longed to be back on the mat competing in his favorite sport. He attended as many wrestling events as he could, supporting his older brother Burke and his teammates. So it wasn’t at all unusual when he joined his family and some other area wrestlers for a trip to Binghamton for the New York State Freestyle and Greco championships in early May.
However, according to Brad Paddock, Aaron wasn’t satisfied with a spectator role.
“He kept pushing — asking over and over again if he could wrestle. He wouldn’t let it go,” Brad Paddock said. “It was really hard to make that decision. I wanted to say no. But he had no issues at all. He was healed and if God healed him, then who was I to say no? When I told him he could wrestle, his demeanor changed completely. He pepped right up. He was running around, jumping on people, smiling so wide.”
That smile didn’t go away, even when he was reminded that he’d be stepping on the mat for the first time in quite some time at a weight class that was totally new.
“He probably weighed around 175 pounds that day,” Jeanie Paddock, his mother, said. “He went through a big growth spurt. We told him – the last time you wrestled, you were at 103. 182 will be very different. He said, ‘I don’t care, let’s go.’”
Weigh-ins were already complete for Freestyle, so he got ready for Greco. He entered at 182 pounds and could hardly contain his excitement.
“I expected all along to wrestle again, but I wasn’t really expecting to do it that weekend,” Aaron Paddock said. “It was just really nice to wrestle again. I actually liked it better with the bigger guys because it was more upperbody stuff and less about being speedy. I wasn’t nervous, but I know everybody else was.”
That’s for sure.
“Saying it was hard to watch him would be a huge understatement,” Brad Paddock said. “I just about had an aneurysm.”
Those feelings of nervousness come up again when talking about the upcoming high school campaign. Jeanie Paddock described it simply by saying it will be a “scary and interesting” season.
Aaron has been given full clearance to wrestle by his regular physician, neurologist and neurosurgeon. After a number of tests, the medical professionals didn’t find any reasons that he can’t get back on the mat this year.
He’s been preparing ever since his performance at the Greco New York states in May, when he began lifting and running more on his own. And, although he didn’t do much wrestling initially, he found himself a new training partner – Burke.
“Before, Aaron was at 103 and I was at 160, so we didn’t really work out together,” Burke Paddock said. “But now, it’s pretty nice. I worked out with him a lot at Fargo and it was a lot of fun. It’s nice to have him back. I definitely didn’t ever think Aaron would be at a higher weight than me.”
Burke wrestled at 170 pounds for Warsaw a year ago, taking third at the state championships after finishing fifth as a freshman and second as a sophomore. He said he will move down to 160 for 2012-13 while Aaron will slide into his former spot in the lineup at 170.
“Aaron’s a little bit bigger than I am and I think it will be easier for me to cut the weight,” Burke Paddock said. “I weighed about 170 last year and I want to help him out.”
They will be helping each other out throughout the season. Along with All-State wrestler Tim Schaefer and others, Aaron will look to push Burke towards his goal of a first New York title.
“I definitely want to win states this year,” Burke said. “It’s harder than I thought it would be when I was younger. I expected to win one by now. When I was younger, I thought I would do it a lot of times like my older brothers did.”
Speaking of older brothers, Joey is currently wrestling at Liberty University. And Ian, after taking time off from Ohio State to help guide Aaron through his recovery, is back with the Buckeyes, ready to wrestle off for the 141-pound spot with Hunter Stieber, according to Brad Paddock.
“I actually think the break was really good for Ian,” Brad Paddock said. “Everything’s coming together now. He’s feeling good and he’s in a good place, training wise. Sometimes a kid redshirts and doesn’t come back the same. That’s not true for Ian. He hasn’t lost that intensity.”
After his layoff from the sport, Aaron hasn’t lost that intensity, either. He’ll wear special headgear as extra protection. And he’ll get his wish to wear the Tigers singlet again.
“I’m looking forward just to being on the mat, wrestling for Warsaw,” Aaron Paddock said when asked what his goals are for the year. He then quickly added, “And I want to make it to states again.”
The path to Albany goes through the SuperSectionals. While Aaron Paddock didn’t compete at the event in 2012, he did earn a victory there.
According to Brad Paddock, during the tournament, Aaron was presented with an award and a t-shirt that said, “One Match to Win . . . 1-0”.
“It was a really nice gesture,” he said. “Through all of this, Aaron has inspired a lot of people.”
He has inspired by simply returning to his everyday life. And he will continue to inspire every time he takes the mat.