Prep Wrestling

Hebron wrestler Phan doesn't let mild autism hold him back

2010-12-28T22:00:00Z 2010-12-30T02:04:58Z Hebron wrestler Phan doesn't let mild autism hold him backBy Jim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
December 28, 2010 10:00 pm  • 

A mild form of autism affects Giovanni Phan's comprehensive abilities.

But the developmental disorder doesn't affect the Hebron freshman's ability to wrestle, run, get good grades, and simply be a 'regular' kid.

"I don't feel challenged," Phan said.

Nor did he feel challenged when Hawks coach Todd Adamczyk asked him over the summer to give wrestling a try.

"Coach convinced me to do it," Phan said. "He said we didn't have a 103 on the team and they needed me."

Though he has never wrestled before, weighs 93 pounds and doesn't process moves and techniques as quickly as his teammates, Phan has won four matches. With eight forfeits, he sports a record of 12-10.

"It's going pretty good," Phan said. "I'm going to keep doing it until the end of high school. The first year's always the hardest. The coaches tell me I'm allowing myself to learn, since I'm a freshman. I like meets better than practices. I get to wrestle somebody my own weight. In practice, I have to wrestle guys who weigh 40 pounds more than me."

Adamczyk knew of Phan and his autism, having taught him in middle school. While the disability can be an obstacle, Adamczyk would take a room full of wrestlers with his attitude.

"Some things don't stick," Adamczyk said. "We have to repeat a lot of things over and over. It takes longer for him to grasp skills. He's finally starting to understand takedowns.

"He's definitely a competitor. He's one of the most coachable kids I've ever had. You ask him to do something, he doesn't stop to filter it, he's going to do it. If I say, 'Hey, Gio, go jump through that window', he's going to give it a try. He might say, 'Coach, that hurt, but I got through it.'"

Phan was diagnosed in elementary school when his troubles with focusing in the classroom affected his academics. He has been attending special education classes since then, now alternating days with mainstream classes, and is an A-B student.

"My goodness, what more can you ask from an autistic kid?" his mother Linhda said. "He's getting better and better every year. We're so proud of him."

Around school, Phan's not singled out for his differences. He's quickly become very popular, and not because he could easily be stuffed into a locker.

"Everyone's well aware of his disability, but they love him," Adamczyk said. "There are times when it would be appropriate to be mad, but, every day, he's as happy as can be. Some places, he'd probably get a hard time walking down the hall, but the seniors who know him, they give him a high five. That's one neat thing about Hebron that makes it unique. Everyone looks out for everyone else. There are the typical cliques, but everyone crosses lines."

Phan balks on the idea of being an inspiration to others, but his mother and coach believe differently.

"I guarantee it, 100 percent, yes," Linhda said. "His younger brother (Bobby) is following in his footsteps (as a runner). He encourages other kids: don't be afraid, don't be scared, if you put your mind to something, you can do it."

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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