Finding Empowerment Through Wrestling

1.2.2019
Curated by
Whitney Bailey
Content via In The News
Source: 
In The News
Curated by
Whitney Bailey

Bennett Sherr was introduced to wrestling in middle school. “Team membership defined what was “normal” for a preadolescent boy,” he says. Normalcy is a feeling Bennett craved at that age.

Bennett with rods in his arm giving peace sign

 

“Since I was known for periodically having titanium devices drilled through my flesh to stretch the bones of my arms and legs underneath, I desperately craved normalcy. I also coveted a warm-up jacket with my name on the back. I was positive that slipping into team apparel emblazoned with “SHERR” from shoulder to shoulder would fill me with a dramatic sense of belonging.”

Bennett was diagnosed with MHE (Multiple Hereditary Exostoses) at the age of seven years old. He describes MHE as “a rare orthopedic disorder with no cure or effective treatment that would see hundreds of hard, spiky tumors grow outward from bones and growth plates throughout my body.” Bennett has had 21 bone surgeries for tumor removal, deformity correction, and bone lengthening.

At that age, Bennett was also hiding something about his self from others. He writes, “Couple my external complexities with being in the closet and my need to find any affinity group willing to welcome me suddenly becomes understandable.”  

“I was the kid who absolutely should not wrestle, yet wrestling’s “no cut” policy was a way to provide me with a sense of acceptance.”

bennett at nationals in his wrestling uniform

With the ‘no-cut policy’ of the wrestling team, Bennett states he was bound to a team that simply had to take him. At first, his teammates nicknamed Bennett “spaz” but as his skills progressed his nickname became “dude” and eventually his last name. “As my name advanced on brackets in state and national tournaments, it seemed I was at last accepted; two years in a row I was selected captain of my middle school team and I became a New Jersey State qualifier,” he says.

With his new popularity, Bennett still seemed to avoid the brotherhood relationship with his teammates. In his freshman year, Bennett came out to his teammates as being gay and was met with nothing but acceptance. He says, “Members of my high school wrestling team were unfazed, happy to share the mat with a gay teammate.”

“Because of the love and acceptance I experienced living my truth, I was finally able to find that elusive sense of belonging that always seemed just out of reach. Recognition was the permission to just be me — and with that, I automatically belonged everywhere I was.”

From Wrestling To Activism

Bennett in a shirt that says EQUALITY in rainbow font

Midway through Bennett’s high school wrestling career, MHE started to take a toll on his body. He writes, “Some new and many, many old fractured bone tumors ravaged my knees, shoulder, and ribs. Of particular concern was my left wrist. Another surgery was scheduled; the result did not go as well as all had hoped. Although always able to work back to the varsity level after previous surgeries, the cumulative damage by this point was insurmountable. Physically, wrestling was gone, and with it, I feared so was what made me special. Not whole, or included, but special in a different or good way — something I was good at performing.”

However, Bennett’s high school Community and Multicultural Development Office helped him spark an interest in activism, specifically social justice. Social justice conferences became monthly events. Bennett was selected by administration and faculty to lead a mandatory seminar for sophomores on the topic of identity.

“Much of the time that I had once spent physically training was now spent organizing forums on topics surrounding ableism and queerness.”

Finding New Sports

Bennett states, “Competitors find it hard to leave competition.” While Bennett was fulfilled with his new roles, he longed for physical exertion. Bennett’s left wrist would always be an issue. Therefore, he found sports that could focus on the right side of his body.

“After a few years practicing, and without expectation, I tried out for my former college’s tennis team. To my surprise, I was awarded a varsity spot playing fifth singles and second doubles on a team that finished fourth at the NJCAA National Tournament,” he says. Bennett is now on the table tennis team at Cornell University.

“With each new evolution of myself as an athlete, I have enjoyed team camaraderie without my sexuality or disability being a concern.”

Bennett leaves his readers with this statement - “Brotherhood is more than team membership, more than a fraternity, more than fellowship — it is cooperation in making the lives of each other better.”

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