Waite senior wrestler Tyler Derr and six of his teammates are competing at the Division I district tournament this weekend in Mentor.
Derr, a 5-11, 152-pounder, took a 28-12 record into districts after placing third last weekend at the sectional tournament.
"I lost to a really bad kid," said Derr, who went 3-1 at the sectional. "I only lost by one or two points. I just didn't come out ready to wrestle. It was the first match of the morning (on Saturday) and I don't think I got enough warmup in."
Derr, 17, prides himself in being able to outlast his opponents through conditioning. Waite coach Carmen Amenta said several of Derr's pins this season have come in the third period.
"He works extremely hard in practice," Amenta said. "He's one of the hardest workers we've had in a long time. He goes out there and practices hard and leaves everything on the mat. He's been a third-period wrestler and had a lot of pins. The third period is his strong period. He's got about 13-14 pins on the season against some pretty good competition."
Derr said he hasn't noticed a different approach by his opponents since it became known in local wrestling circles that Derr is legally blind.
"I'm pretty sure most of them know," Derr said. "It's been out there."
Derr knows he won't get any sympathy from opponents, and he doesn't expect any.
"He doesn't make any excuses for himself," said Amenta, who has known Derr since he was born and is good friends with Derr's parents, Don and Beth.
Last June, Derr noticed he was having difficulty seeing. But, that was only the beginning.
"It started getting slightly worse," he recalled. "I had 20-20 vision before that. I could still read the digital clock from across the room and then it started getting a little fuzzy."
Derr's eyesight really began getting worse in early November. He noticed he was having trouble reading in school.
"I worked the election and I was checking addresses, and that was fine," he said. "About two or three weeks later it got way worse. Stuff started getting hard to read. So we went to an eye doctor and he said he had no idea what was going on. He sent us to a neural opthamologist, who deals with nerves of the eye. There are only two of those (doctors) in Toledo.
"They took pictures of the inside of my eye and the doctor wasn't quite sure. On the second visit he told us about some rare disease, and we didn't believe him at first. We went to the other doctor for a second opinion and he gave us some line that it was from stress or something."
Derr was then referred to an eye specialist at the University of Michigan, "who said right off the bat that he thought it was that disease," Derr said.
The disease is called Leber's Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, or LHON.
LHON usually affects men, most commonly in their late 20s or early 30s, but the symptoms can happen at any age, to men or women. Usually LHON affects one eye first, so central vision is lost in that eye over a period of a few weeks. One or two months later, the second eye is affected in the same way.
LHON is inherited through a gene which is only passed on through the egg cell from the mother. Men cannot pass on LHON to their children. According to a study in England, LHON was found in about one in 30,000 people and causes loss of eyesight in about 1 in 14,000 adult males.
Derr received news of his blood test from the U of M during an early-season tournament in Brecksville. The results were positive for LHON.
Derr never even wore glasses before the disease took hold. In fact, no one in his family - he has two brothers and a sister - wears glasses.
"I was shocked at first," Derr said of hearing the diagnosis. "Unbelievable. It didn't hit me for a while or seem real. There's ups and downs in life, like everything else, but nothing like that."
Nothing, not even corrective lenses or surgery, can offset LHON. There is no cure, and according to various websites, only about 4 percent of those affected by LHON ever regain their vision.
"For a while we were going to about two doctor appointments a week, the neural opthamologists," Derr said. "They thought it was a tumor putting pressure on my optic nerve, but the CAT scan showed that there was nothing there."
Derr has a 32-inch TV in his bedroom, but he has to get two feet from the screen to see what he's watching.
"The radio has gotten more use in my bedroom than the TV has lately," he said. "It's been pretty tough. School has been a lot harder, of course."
Derr has also had to make adjustments on the wrestling mat.
"He cannot read the clock or the score," Amenta said. "He has a hard time seeing red and green stripes on the mat, so we have to make him aware of the score and the time. He's seeing shadows and things like that and he's doing things by instinct. He has a strong family and friends, so we've worked through it."
Derr, whose wrestling career began at the biddy level, maintains his goal of making the awards podium at the state tournament. Even though his eyesight has failed, no one can take a medal away from Tyler Derr.
"Wrestling has definitely helped me get through it," he said, "because it takes up so much time. A lot of adjustments have had to be made, but you can't give up on your dreams and your goals."