When Jared Stevens and Justin Kievit met on the mat, it was no ordinary wrestling match between the two seventh-graders from Tennessee.
Jared, who has cerebral palsy, is wheelchair-bound, but the Sunset Middle School student wanted to wrestle, so he joined his school’s team. He had to be carried onto the mat to face Justin, a Freedom Middle School student, for their exhibition match in December.
What happened then captivated onlookers and the hundreds of thousands who watched the video online. Justin pulled Jared’s arm over his own body, allowing himself to be pinned. Cheers erupted from the spectators, and Justin earned praise online for his selflessness. It was Jared’s first wrestling match.
In an interview with ABC News’ Josh Elliott that appeared today on “Good Morning America,” Jared’s father explained his son’s desire to wrestle.
“We asked the coach, what do we have to do to make that happen?” he said.
The coach, Randy Stevens [no relation], recalled that Jared’s father “said he really wanted to get Jared on the mat [that day] and asked me if I had a kid who understood, knows what the world is really like and had a big heart,” he said.
That wrestler was Justin.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Justin told “GMA.” “I went over to wrestle [Jared] and shook his hand and I noticed he couldn’t move, so I sat on the mat and pulled him over me and slid under him like that,” he told “GMA,” demonstrating the move. “He looked at me with a cheerful face and smiled at me, right when the match was over. That made me feel really good.”
Elliott invited the two boys to come to New York and be on “Good Morning America,” and they were thrilled.
Jared had one question for Elliott.
“Can I bring my dog?” he asked.
“You can bring your dog,” Elliott said, laughing. “You bet.”
Jared and Justin were special guests on “GMA” today and Justin told Elliott he’s amazed at the response from the community and strangers who have seen the story.
“It’s completely crazy,” Justin said. “People are going up to me and saying things like, ‘You’re my hero.’ I feel really great about it. …Me and Jared are really good friends now.”
As part of GMA’s “You’re Not Dreaming!” series, both boys got an extra special surprise from one of their sport heroes: Olympic wrestler Rulon Gardner, who was deeply moved by their story. The two-time Olympic medalist, who took home the gold in Greco-Roman wrestling in 2000 in Sydney and the bronze in Athens in 2004, burst on to the “GMA” set and praised them for leading by example.
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“It was truly inspiring to see the spirit that these two had in sportsmanship and athletics. You guys bring the emotion of sports together,” he said. “From wrestling to athletics, sportsmanship is being able to go out and share with somebody what competition’s like and ultimately what success is and also, maybe a loss. But it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the opportunity to compete and you guys show that.”
Gardner awarded both with medals for their act of exemplary sportsmanship.
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