Youth wrestler won't let hardships keep him from competing

Thursday, July 19, 2012 | 11:34 p.m. CDT; updated 12:48 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 20, 2012
Klayton Anderson, 13, pins an opponent at a tournament last year. Klayton returned from numerous medical issues, including Type 1 diabetes and a brain injury, to qualify for the state competition.

BOONVILLE — Klayton Anderson will crouch down on the Hearnes Center mat Saturday and face his opponent as any other wrestler in this year's Show-Me State Games competition.

But what Klayton sees will be through only one of his eyes. He will have just taken insulin shots for Type 1 diabetes. He will be aware that hurting his head is a constant danger after already recovering from a serious brain injury.

2012 Show-Me State Games

The first weekend of the Show-Me State Games starts Friday in Columbia.

The games will host an opening ceremony, open to the public, at 7 p.m. at the Hearnes Center. Missouri football players Elvis Fisher and James Franklin and men's basketball players Laurence Bowers and Phil Pressey will be guest speakers.

A full schedule of events and additional information are listed on the Show-Me State Games website.

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He is 13.

Klayton has nursed a broken jaw, overcome a seizure and fought through mononucleosis. He has bled in places nobody can see and has forgotten tragedies everyone else can remember.

But he’s a fighter and a winner.

There was just one meet last season where Klayton didn’t finish in the top two: USA Wrestling's Missouri State Folkstyle Championships, where he took fourth.

That’s the meet he will talk about, of how he "choked away" an 8-0 lead to get pinned in the second round, and then relinquished a 2-0 third-period lead in the third-place battle after working his way back.

Klayton’s family — father, Ken Anderson, mother, Sara Anderson, and 10-year-old sister, Kathryn — said that he just does things. They shared stories of the restless state he was in while recovering from a collision on a baseball diamond in July 2011 that left him in a seizure with a broken jaw and bleeding in two spots of his brain.

They said he couldn’t stand spending the next month inside their Boonville house. Ken Anderson said his son cried on numerous occasions at the news of his football career coming to an end because of the accident.

"I wish sometimes he had that fear," Sara Anderson said.

It’s an emotion the rest of the Anderson family knows all too well.

An illness to beat

Before February 2010, Klayton had lived as close to as healthy of a life as could be expected for such an active 10-year-old.

He played sports year-round with wrestling, football and baseball. His worst sports injury was a black eye, and he had never had so much as a cavity.

Then came February 2010. Wrestling season was nearing its end, and the signs sneaked in.

Klayton came down with the flu. He quickly lost about 10 to 12 pounds and sprouted bags under his eyes from being tired all the time.

"We got really worried about him in February because he had lost so much weight so quick," Ken Anderson said. "But he bounced back, and we were like, Well, everything’s OK."

But as the spring wore on, the symptoms crept back into Klayton’s life, rendering him constantly tired.

But Klayton was 10 and had just finished a rugged routine on the mat and started playing catcher on the baseball diamond. Having never dealt with health problems with their children, his parents figured Klayton was just getting a little worn out.

"It’s like that proverbial sore tooth," Ken Anderson said. "You have a sore tooth, but you think if you ignore it, it goes away."

One day, while out shopping for baseball socks before a tournament, Klayton returned to Ken’s truck and threw up. His father decided he could no longer ignore the problem, called his wife and said Klayton needed to see a doctor.

They came home, and Klayton showered. When her son walked downstairs shirtless, Sara Anderson’s worries reached their breaking point. She thought she was looking at cancer.

"His cheek bones were sunken in, his rib cage was showing," Sara Anderson said. "I hadn’t seen him without a shirt on for a while, so it didn’t hit me until I looked at him. And when I looked at him, his skin was gray. I said, 'We’re going to the emergency room.'"

Sara Anderson’s grandfather had died three months earlier from the disease she mistakenly thought had crippled her 10-year-old son. It was a nagging fear she couldn’t shake the entire way to the hospital.

"The way I remember my grandfather looking ... he had lost so much weight. He was lethargic," she said. "His skin, the way he looked — that’s the way he (Klayton) looked."

The Andersons made their first of several trips to the emergency room, this one in silence.

The diagnosis took five minutes. Weighing 67 pounds with a blood sugar level of 420 — more than three times what it should have been — Klayton was no mystery to the nurses. They knew Type 1 diabetes when they saw it.

The challenge would still be great, and even greater for a wrestler. Klayton would have to monitor himself closer than others in his situation. He would have to receive insulin between four and 12 times a day and inject the shots himself. He would have to intently watch out for changes in weight or skin diseases his diabetic body would struggle to fight off.

The doctors insisted he didn’t change his life routine. With their endorsement, he said he decided to not let a disease define who he was.

His parents said they felt the disease could at times make him feel burdened, though he disputed the notion.

His family members immediately joined him in changing their diets and exercising. They created a premise — either all can take part or none — that is still in play today.

Three weeks after the diagnosis, Klayton was back at what he called the best competition around at the Show-Me State Games in July 2010. He placed third.

"To see the color come back in his face and for his cheeks to fill out again, it’s pretty amazing how quickly kids can bounce back from something like that," Sara Anderson said.

There was more for his parents to bounce back from. In February of 2011, they found out Klayton was 85 to 90 percent blind in his left eye, probably due to his diabetes. Klayton said as long as he could remember he could not see well out of his left eye.

An injury to forget

Klayton doesn’t remember anything about that evening in June 2011. He doesn’t remember being at the baseball diamond. He doesn't remember the race to home plate, or rolling around in the dirt, or any part of the worst injury he’s ever suffered.

"What I remember is waking up in the hospital," he said.

He was there to watch Kathryn play softball, Sara Anderson said. After the game was over, he and a friend took up a common practice of racing each other around the bases, going in opposite directions.

The friends rounded the corners and darted full-speed toward each other at second. Klayton dove down to avoid missing his friend, who didn’t adjust. Klayton’s jaw collided with his friend's knee, and Klayton was soon was on the ground.

Prepped for tragedy at the sound of parents’ calls, Sara Anderson, who was nearby but not watching, grabbed Klayton’s insulin and ran over, only to discover he needed something more.

Klayton was writhing on the ground, struggling uncontrollably with a seizure. His jaw was broken. In the midst of the fit, Klayton bit a finger-size hole through his bottom lip.

When the Andersons arrived at the hospital, they discovered the graver matter: Klayton was suffering from bleeding in the brain in two different spots.

Just as the doctors were contemplating moving him into surgery to stop the bleeding, it ceased.

"I think that more than anything brought home how precious your family is and how precious your kids are," Ken Anderson said.

"He had played ball for four years, I’ve watched major league baseball. You see kids running the bases all the time. You see kids running into each other all the time. Something like this, it’s such a freak thing. Everything had to happen just right to cause it like it was."

A return home

Back at home, where he would spend "99 percent" of his time for the month after the accident, Klayton could ride the family's horses only while they walked. He could not join his baseball team as it won a championship. A return to the Show-Me State Games was out.

After the doctors told Ken and Sara Anderson that any further head trauma could kill their son, Klayton went into a bubble of his parents’ creation.

He couldn’t be in the sun, and he couldn’t walk up the stairs on his own. Showers instantly became the riskiest times in a life that was inactive as Klayton would ever know.

"I almost was too protective, almost smothering, because you worry about what else could happen," Sara Anderson said.

Klayton cried, Ken Anderson said, at the thought of giving up his quarterbacking career. Area parents showed up to the door with literature to try to convince the Andersons he was physically fit to play football, but to no avail. With no clearance from a neurologist and the high rate of concussions associated with the game, his parents were sure that pee-wee football was out of the question.

Instead, he sat at home with the ever-challenging goal of not getting injured.

Soon thereafter, Klayton contracted mono. It was yet another off-the-field sickness to keep Klayton away from sports.

Klayton refused to give up on wrestling, though, determined to eventually make a return to the mats. During his many hours to think to himself, he devised a goal: He would bounce back to reach the state tournament again.

The climb began in November 2011 after his parents had lifted their restrictions. He started training with Tony Pascaglia, a former state champion for Hickman High School, and he continued to wrestle in Nick Purler’s league in Boonville.

It wasn’t until a month after the training started that Pascaglia found out that Klayton had diabetes, had suffered a brain injury and had blindness. He attributed Klayton’s toughness for preventing signs from ever showing on the mat.

"He’s definitely one of those kids you want in your practice room," Pascaglia said.

Purler is a family friend of the Andersons and has coached Klayton since he started wrestling at age 8. Purler said he never knew Klayton was blind in one eye. He, like Pascaglia, attributed the secrecy to Klayton’s will to keep going.

The rebound worked, somehow beyond the reach of what Klayton even expected before his fall on the diamond. He breezed through his first 11 tournaments in the 2011-2012 season before landing back at the state tournament.

Klayton is more reckless than either of his parents might prefer, but Sara Anderson said she can admire drive when she sees it. Klayton's little sister sees it, too. 

"He doesn’t care," Kathryn said of his recklessness. "We’ll just go to the hospital again."

Klayton said he feels the drive without a fear for the crash. His illnesses and injuries don’t bother him because in many ways, they never did.

Klayton's goals continue to increase. Now 5 feet tall and 97 pounds, he wants to continue to get better and eventually win a state title in high school — a feat Purler said he expects to see.

“Some people sit there and do nothing, because they know I’m going to beat them,” Klayton said.

Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.

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