ASHTABULA , Ohio (WJW) – A local wrestler who wasn’t supposed to live beyond early childhood is defying the odds every time he steps onto the mat.
“He definitely has the drive, he has the grit that he wants to win,” said Coach Bobby Shinault at Lakeside High School in Ashtabula.
Fifteen-year-old Elijah Conel was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and epilepsy as a baby and spent many months hospitalized over the years.
“It was rough,” said his mother Cassandra Foster. “But now he is seizure free, he’s a blessing and my angel.”
He’s doing something that once seemed impossible.
Elijah always loved watching wrestling and especially his uncle, who was the State Champion for Lakeside and an All American Collegiate wrestler.
“He’s always wanted to do it, but it’s just been hard for him,” said Kyle Conel, Elijah’s uncle.
Elijah would also cheer for his younger brother and the team at Lakeside, which gave Coach Shinault an idea.
He asked Elijah to join the team and found an opponent for him to wrestle and pin at each match.
Elijah’s mother says it was like an answer to her prayers.
“I told the coach, ‘I’m not putting him in no box.’ Like, okay, let him go. Kids get hurt, but hey, get back up,” said Foster, “I believe in him.”
The community believes in Elijah, too.
Inside the Dragons gymnasium, the crowed went wild Thursday night as Elijah took the mat for his last match of the season.
Just two weeks ago, he was hospitalized again with pneumonia, but Elijah said he couldn’t wait to return.
“I feel good. Happy, so excited about it,” said Elijah.
The two rounds went by quickly and he pinned his opponent, 12-year-old Blake French, who seemed even happier afterwards than Elijah.
“I mean, I just love making him smile. It’s kind of nerve racking, but I knew I had to do it. It’s fun man, I just love it,” said Blake.
From spectators to family and friends, they say Elijah’s wrestling has impacted all of their lives and shows with hard work and determination, anything is possible.
“I hope people see that just because a child is different, you shouldn’t treat them any differently,” said Katie Bercham, Blake’s mother.
“It’s awesome, the inspiration he gives to everybody,” said Coach Shinault, “ With him, I believe anything is possible. Anything at all.”