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Ultimate Band of Brothers: Paddock quintet faced life and near-death experiences to 1000 wins
|By Katie Finn|
Burke Paddock has a tattoo that circles the front of his neck and chest in three lines:
“Without my brother there would be no victory.
“He has shown me the true meaning.
“Now as the years go on we will be victorious.”
The senior high school state champion from Warsaw, N.Y., is no stranger to victory. Neither are his four brothers.
In fact, the youngest Paddock brother, Aaron recently tallied his 100th career win in just three seasons. Weeks later, he pinned his opponent for a victory that was added to the 999 wins that he and his brothers had already tallied … and the Paddocks collectively passed the 1,000-win mark in high school competition.
“It was a good milestone,” said Aaron, quick to point out he was just one part of it. “It wasn’t just me, it was all my brothers.”
The winning started with Paul, now 25, who went on to wrestle at Edinboro. He was followed by Ian, 23, a three-time New York state champion, who is now at Ohio State. Then there was Joey, 18, who wrestled at Liberty until the Virginia school dropped the program to a club sport. He is now coaching the New York State girls’ freestyle team. Burke, 18, is the fourth Paddock boy to have wrestled in high school … and as a senior this year recently committed to wrestle at the University of Iowa next fall. Aaron, 16, is the youngest of Paddock boys.
Jeanie Paddock remembers back to the very beginning to when Paul started out.
“He really paved the way for the rest of the boys, showing them all what hard work can do,” she said.
Following Paul’s senior season, his father wrote his high school career record up on a dry-erase board in his office. As the younger boys followed, he continued to tally up the wins and losses. It stunned him when he realized his sons were poised to surpass 1,000 wins.
But for this wrestling family, the journey to 1,000 victories has not been the whole story. There was also a near-tragic turn of events that redefined the concept of victory for such a winning family.
It is this story that inspired the tattoo that Burke displays every time he walks out on the mat. The fact that it was Aaron that tallied that historic win makes this story all the more remarkable.
On Aug. 31, 2011, the lives of the 11 members of the Paddock family and their friends and extended family were rocked. Some of the boys were trimming a tree in the front yard when a heavy limb crashed down onto Aaron Paddock.
“I was three houses down. I heard Ian screaming. I ran up and saw Burke holding him, holding Aaron’s head together,” remembers Brad. “I grabbed the Suburban and we put Aaron in the back with his mom and Burke. He opened his eyes for a moment and looked at his mom. Then it was another three weeks until he opened them again.”
Aaron was rushed to Women & Children’s Hospital in the nearby city of Buffalo. He had swelling in his brain so the doctors removed a front portion of his head, inserting it beneath the skin on his abdomen in order to keep the tissue alive while the swelling went down.
The doctors induced a coma. It was three weeks later that they brought him out of it. Worried about his strength, the doctors wanted to restrain him. That was when it was decided that two family members would always be by his side.
In the face of this crisis, the Paddock boys did what brothers do. They took care of each other. Similar to the team effort it took to get to 1,000 wins, each family member had a part to play.
“Each one of my children played a huge role in Aaron’s recovery,” said Jeanne. “They are all truly special.”
Aaron’s role was clear: heal.
Paul stepped in for Jeanie, who spent every day and night at the hospital.
“He took over the majority of my work when Aaron got hurt so I could stay with Aaron,” said Jeanie. “He would work all day and then drive an hour to the hospital, stay there until the middle of the night, drive an hour home and do it all over again.”
Ian, who was then entering his sophomore year at Ohio State, decided to leave school and wrestling for the fall so he could be with his brother. He spent the 34 days Aaron was in the hospital at his brother’s side. Once Aaron came out of the coma, the hard work really began and there was Ian pushing his younger brother through those painful, early days.
For Burke, he also wanted to take time off from school to be with his brother. According to Brad, Burke was adamant.
“Burke said he wasn’t going to go to school,” Brad recalled. “He said I’m not leaving this room until he (Aaron) does.”
Brad and Jeanie knew Burke needed to stay in school. He was about to start his sophomore year in high school, and Brad reminded him if he took the semester off, he would not have been eligible to wrestle that year. And more than that, he very likely would have had to miss his senior year due to his age limit.
Burke’s response was “fine, I won’t wrestle then.”
It was the night before the first day of school that Brad put his foot down.
“I came up to the hospital room and told Burke to go get his stuff,” recounted Brad. “I told him he had school tomorrow and he was coming home with me. He held it in but I could tell he was ticked at me.”
Aaron agrees his parents did the right thing in pushing Burke to go to school.
“That was one of the things I heard about when I first woke up,” he said. “I thought it was a really nice gesture but I’m really happy he stayed in school and wrestled out this year.”
Burke relented and went to school … and Aaron did leave the hospital room. He surpassed the expectations of the seven doctors he had caring for him and before long was home.
While Burke could not be there as much as he wanted during his brother’s recovery in the hospital, he has stepped into an equally important role now that Aaron is wrestling again. He is helping Aaron to train in the wrestling room.
“I’m not 100 percent yet, but I’m hoping I’ll be there soon,” Aaron said. “I train with my brother Burke, working on my fitness, technique, mat management, just every aspect of wrestling that I can get better at.
“He tries to do anything he can to help me and sometimes it just gets so repetitive. I’ll get mad at him. But I just have to remember he’s just trying to help me and I should take what he’s saying into consideration and not just get angry about it. I need to keep a calm head.”
Aaron knows just how much his brothers have helped him. In fact he credits them for his recovery and where he is today.
“Without them, it would have been probably near impossible,” said Aaron. “We were pretty close but I think this made us closer. Ian took a semester off college and stayed with me and helped through my recovery so I could start climbing the ladder and recover. And then Burke has just helped me through it so much.”
As for Burke, he is coming off of his first state title at 160 pounds as a junior. His victories in high school appear to be just the beginning. In November, he officially signed his letter of intent to wrestle at the Iowa, starting in the 2014-15 season.
“I think that it’s really good for him. I’m really happy he’s going there,” said Aaron. “It’s the perfect school for him because everything they do there and how they are just as people, that is where Burke would fit in perfectly. It’s the most like home to him.”
For the time being, Aaron continues to improve every day, as his record shows. He is 102-15 so far. The accident and his miraculous recovery impact him every day.
“As a wrestler I’ve become more determined,” he said. “I have a goal to get back to being as good as I can be.”
Aaron also pointed to how it’s changed him off the mat.
“I feel it’s given me a more open perspective of other people and their actions and their feelings,” he said. “It got me to open my eyes to see everybody else’s emotions and what I can do to try to help them if they’re having troubles or anything.”
The Paddocks are proud of the 1,000 wins and continue to run up that number. But they are truly thankful for Aaron’s recovery … and for them victory will always be defined by more than the points on a scoreboard.