FARMINGTON — It's a big moment for any wrestler, but for Gavin Cox, it carried special significance.
The 12-year-old Farmington boy won his first wrestling match earlier this week. The victory was the culmination of eight years of competing against his opponents on the wrestling mat and a lifetime of overcoming his own disability.
Cox was born with cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that can affect movement, muscle tone and coordination. Although the Heights Middle School seventh grader has wrestled for eight years, he had never won a match before Tuesday. That's when he locked Hermosa Middle School's Alex Rodriguez up in a cradle and pinned him.
"It felt really great. It made me happy to get someone in a pin," Gavin said Thursday of his win.
Rodriguez hit the mat as Gavin reached for a single-leg takedown early in the first round. Late in the round, Gavin turned Rodriguez over and secured a pin. In an ultimate display of sportsmanship, both teams erupted in applause for Gavin.
Hermosa Middle School wrestling coach Matt Shrock was proud of the lesson the match taught Rodriguez and the rest of his team.
"Rodriguez stepped on the mat unsure of how it would turn out," he said. "He probably lost sleep over that match the night before, but he will never lose sleep over that match again. He showed a lot of integrity maybe other kids wouldn't, and he will always know it is not just about winning and losing."
Gavin learned early it wasn't all about winning and losing. He keeps his focus on improving each day.
When he was 9 months old, doctors told his parents that their son would never walk or run without surgery. They cautioned that the boy would be restricted to a wheelchair.
At 4, Gavin could barely walk, but he was anxious to keep up with his brothers who wrestled. So Gavin stuck with the sport. He says it makes him happy because he likes the physical contact. And, he said, it helps him release his anger.
"For him to be on the mat and to do the things he does is pretty amazing. It is huge for him to get out there and participate, even though he is different and moves different than other kids," said his mother, Leslie Cox. "It is three or four times harder for him to walk and move than anyone else. He just wants to be like everyone else."
Because of his disability, Gavin wrestles from his knees. He refused to call it a disadvantage, though he knows other kids can maneuver around him more easily.
"This is my first year wrestling from my knees. Some kids, it freaks them out because I am on my knees," Gavin said.
Troy Ramsted, who is Heights Middle School's wrestling coach, has coached Gavin for several years in the Piedra Vista youth program.
"He has wrestled a lot of matches, and usually he is overpowered because of his situation," Ramsted said. "Sometimes, you see him get discouraged because of it. He comes into practice every day and puts out his best. Seeing him pull off that win, it made it all come together for him. I have to commend the Hermosa coaching staff because they had some input on that and helped us out. It was a good win-win for both schools."
Dave Cox was in the stands to see his son earn his first win.
"It was an unbelievable thrill. For a kid that was told he would never walk -- let alone run or participate in sports -- it was something pretty neat to see him win," he said. "I am very proud of what he has accomplished and, more importantly, the outlook on life he has. Whether or not he wins or loses, he is always willing to try again."
This season, Gavin participated in YAFL football for the first time. He hopes to play football and continue wrestling when he begins high school at Piedra Vista.
Being part of a team has helped Gavin, but his coaches believe it has also influenced his teammates.
"He is an inspiration. When kids are complaining about their aches and pains, they look over at Gavin and suck it up and put out a little more," Ramsted said. "We went on a 4-mile run on Wednesday. When some of the kids got tired and started slowing down, they looked back at Gavin and kept going. He is our fuel when everyone is running on empty."
Now, Gavin has reached an age where he understands he is different from other kids, his dad said. But the 12-year-old still has the same goals as any other wrestler: he wants to win many more matches.
"Wrestling makes me happy. I think winning means I need to get better to get more wins. I want to get better at my technique," Gavin said. "I am going to get better every time I go out there."