COLUMBIA—On Thursday afternoon, Missouri senior wrestler Kyle Bradley hurried into the dimly lit room that connects the wrestling room and the weight room in the Hearnes Center. Bradley was ready to hop on one of the exercise bikes. Practice would start in a few minutes and Bradley knew he had to keep up his training for the Joe Parisi tournament in a few weeks.
In his fifth year with the Missouri wrestling team, Bradley is one of three team captains and the starter at the 157 pound weight class. He has qualified for the NCAA championship tournament three times and has a career record of 72-45.
Not bad for a guy who is a notch away from legal blindness.
Bradley was born with a condition called Juvenile X-Linked Retinoschisis, a genetic eye disorder that affects the retina. His condition is a genetic mutation that only runs in males.
Back at the Hearnes Center, a manager told Bradley that he would have to sign a stack of posters before getting on the exercise bike.
"I have to sign all of these?" Bradley asked.
"Yes," the manager replied.
Bradley sat down and began signing the posters, which contained pictures of four current wrestlers, including him. Bradley was shown in his singlet and headgear with his arms stretched out, his neck muscles tightened and his mouth agape, screaming in triumph after a victorious match.
You wouldn't know it from the picture, but Bradley's vision is "like having a pair of binoculars and not being able to focus in on things like reading and seeing things from far away," he said.
Still sitting in his chair, Bradly puts down the sharpie and turns his head toward the weight room. He describes what he sees in front of him.
"If someone were standing at the end out the weight room..." Bradley said pointing to a wall twenty feet away, "... I wouldn't be able to see their facial features or anything."
He then points down at the posters he's signing. The team's schedule is in small print in the top right hand corner.
"I can't read this from here," Bradley said.
To be considered legally blind, a person's vision acuity must be 20/200. Bradley is one line away from that, 20/80 in his right eye and 20/100 in his left. Glasses won't work, surgery won't help and by this point in his life doctors thought his condition would have already rendered him totally blind. But luckily his condition hasn't worsened since the original diagnosis.
Bradley said that his condition prevented him from playing other sports, but that a doctor's recommendation lead him to take up wrestling in first grade. He fell in love with the sport and has excelled ever since.
"With this eye disease, I've had to deal with it my whole life," Bradley said. "I've had to work at it and find ways to be successful. With wrestling, every person is different. They have to find their own style and find their own way to be successful. I use both hand in hand."
Coach Brian Smith said his coaching of Bradley is only slightly different from the other wrestlers.
"You want to verbalize more to him because if you show him stuff he might not see it as much," Smith said. "Sometimes when you are verbally saying things he might take it the wrong way. But he doesn't get phased by much now. He's so mature that he knows the way we do things, and he just comes and does it. He's having a lot of success."
Smith has encouraged Bradley to speak to groups about overcoming his disability and inspire other disabled athletes.
In 2012, Bradley won the Wilma Rudolph Award, an honor given to a student athletes who "overcome great personal, academic, and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics."
Bradley plans to help other disabled athletes when his time at Missouri is over.
"I was blessed with great people that helped me succeed with my disability..." he said. "...I'd like to work with college athletics either in the academic side or start something up with people who have disabilities also and help them succeed in college. "