Wrestler overcomes arthritis, stage fright

Posted: Friday, February 07, 2003

KETCHIKAN (AP) -- David Mann hopes to pull off a unique double Friday night at Clarke Cochrane Gymnasium.

First, he'll try to harmonize with three friends as they open the night's action by singing ''The Star Spangled Banner.''

Then, the 103-pound Ketchikan junior will hope his body is perfectly tuned for a match in the 4A state wrestling tournament.

''I can't sing by myself at all,'' said Mann, a choir student as well as a wrestler. ''I won't do it. Its easier with the other guys out there.''

The opportunity has been a long time coming for Mann, who has become one of the state's best in his weight class despite aches and pains of an uncommon form of arthritis since he was 12 years old.

Mann suffers from Multiple Epiphyseal Dyspasia, a rare, inherited form of arthritis that sets in during adolescence. Symptoms of MED, or Fairbanks Disease, are identifiable at birth but do not develop until years later.

Occasionally, children affected by the disease develop an awkward walking style or even a limp. They experience unexplained pain in most of their joints, primarily hips, knees, ankles and wrists.

A 1995 study on MED by the Orthopedic Department at the Alfred I. Dupont Institute in Delaware said treatment usually involves common painkillers and an avoidance of difficult physical activities.

The study said some people with MED will be minimally affected and need only avoid jarring sports such as basketball or trampolines.

That was not for Mann. After years of baseball and swimming, he started wrestling in seventh grade. Since then, he's adapted his wrestling style and his upper body strength to work around the nearly constant pain in his legs and joints.

''I wasn't that good in seventh and eighth grade,'' Mann said. ''I guess I sort of turned it on when I was a freshman.''

Mann quietly practiced at Ketchikan High School with teammates without saying much about the pain.

''When he first started wrestling, it got the point where I finally got the guts to go up and say something in practice,'' said Ketchikan wrestling coach Rick Collins. ''I said, 'Look, you're obviously hurting here, so we need to be smart about your training.' Otherwise, he'd just work himself to death and grind himself down.''

Mann and Collins worked out a system that allowed the student to take breaks when the pain in his joints was too much. He gradually developed strength in his upper body to make up for his legs.

''He compensates with hard work,'' Collins said. ''He's a push-up machine. He can literally do hundreds in a row. I think he's pretty obsessed with developing his upper body, given that his legs aren't as strong as he would like them to be.''

Mann finished seventh in the state as a sophomore. This year, he has a 35-3 record.

Most in the wrestling community are not aware of his MED diagnosis or how it affects his workout routine.

''The guys on the team know, but we don't really talk about it,'' Mann said. ''Everyone else just knows I'm the kid with weak legs.''

''He doesn't like to use it as an excuse and he doesn't like to talk about it,'' Collins said. ''I don't even get much out of him about it.''

Mann swims everyday in his swimming class, taught by Collins.

''It helps me a lot,'' Mann said. ''Lifting weights helps too because it makes those joints stronger. It only hurts when I work out too hard.''

Collins sometimes has been so concerned with Mann's intense work ethic that he's made Mann sit out of practice to avoid injury.

In the week before the region tournament, Collins asked Mann to sit out four days to let his body recuperate.

''I wouldn't let him on the mat,'' Collins said. ''He was getting beat down, but it was such a subtle thing that we weren't really noticing it. But he obviously responded very well at the regional tournament.''

At the state tournament, Mann will compete in one of the most competitive weight classes against the likes of Cody Wolf of Juneau, Cameron Hagen of Homer and Bo Kittley of Wasilla.

And if all goes well, he might even handle his nerves when he steps to the microphone.

''I'll be nervous,'' Mann said. ''And I'll be nervous about wrestling, too.''



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