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Photo: Adonis Lattimore (left) of Landstown High School in Virginia Beach went head to head with Lake Braddock’s Korlan Tran before winning the 106-pound state title. (Funk Bullet Photography)
By Bill X. Barron
“If God makes no mistakes and we are created wonderfully in His image, Adonis was perfectly made.”
Jerrold Lattimore, whose son Adonis recently won the 2022 Virginia High School State Championships at 106 pounds, uses this philosophy about his son’s involvement with wrestling.
The anticipated moment of Adonis’ birth 17 years ago, was “both a celebration of life and a mourning for lost limbs,” retells Jerrold. “Not knowing where this journey would lead, my wife and I resolved to accept things for what they were. Pity and self-loathing get us nowhere.”
Born without a right leg, a left leg — which ends below the thigh — and a right hand with but one finger, Adonis Lattimore, whose first name is an African proverb for “God’s Blessing”, asserts that “my name symbolizes the positive impact I have on people or have yet to meet.”
Adonis’ universal appeal begins with a wide, open smile that invites one to be at ease and makes his body’s appearance irrelevant. James Sanderlin, his coach at Landstown High in Virginia Beach, Va., remarks that “the running joke is that he always has a smile on his face, pinning or being pinned, win or lose.”
What began as a “faith walk” has culminated in a nationwide recognition of a remarkable individual who has conquered imperceivable odds.
Adonis has now appeared in nearly 50 video and print media interviews for Good Morning America, ABC News & NBC Nightly News, ESPN & Fox News, Black News Channel and USA Today, amongst others.
“For Adonis, the lasting impact of his journey is that anything is possible,” relates Sanderlin. “You have to make things happen in life. Adonis just keeps pushing through and adapting to situations until he owns them.”
With reverence to his name’s meaning, Adonis reflects: “You could consider my condition to be a blessing. For if I had legs, I would be a completely different person. I certainly would not have wrestled.”
Now in his 12th year of wrestling, Adonis has learned to “take full advantage of his low center of gravity, something I noticed when he would horseplay with me at age 5,” his proud dad said. “I felt he could excel in a sport like wrestling where he would rely upon his strength.”
“With experience,” Adonis relates, “I became more patient, waiting for opportunities to present themselves, as well as making sure to not over-extend while balancing on my left leg. My hands and arms serve as extensions of my legs. Sweeps and snaps allow me to stay in position while scoring.”
To attain a reversal, Adonis’ preferred move is a switch which takes advantage of his upper-body strength, and to escape, he executes a Granby roll which works well with his lower center of gravity. Like his mentor Anthony Robles, Adonis uses both his strength and agility to execute a Robles tilt.
Appreciating the road ahead for Adonis, successful physically-challenged athletes have reached out to offer their counsel and share techniques for how they learned to wrestle without legs.
His mentorship circle includes Robles, the NCAA champ for Arizona State who was born with one leg; Rohan Murphy, a Paralympian and three-time Penn State varsity letter-winner who lost both legs at birth; and Zion Clark, a wrestler and Guinness World Record holder for walking 20 meters on his hands in 4.78 seconds despite being born without a lower body.
With his self-determined manner, Adonis describes the success of his senior year to most “as coming out of nowhere. Reflecting on where I started keeps me humble.”
Adonis’ goal-oriented approach will help him maintain a realistic perspective next season when he wrestles collegiately at the University of Nebraska-Kearney, where he will study computer science.
“Adonis is a class act,” Sanderlin said. “His actions always set an example for those to come next. Truly and genuinely loved, he is always a crowd favorite.”
In the eighth grade, Adonis worked with the local ministry to build a foundation for a youth building. Before burying the studs, each participant wrote a mission statement on them. Then and there, Adonis declared: “Win the high school state wrestling championship.”
It was here that the faith journey began.
But Adonis was destined to walk an uneven path, one that made his dream unlikely at first. Competing throughout high school at 106 pounds, he qualified for regionals as a freshman but went 0-2, failed to qualify for state as a sophomore, and as a junior, COVID “stole a year I believed I could have won state,” he said.
Between his junior and senior seasons, the path to the top began with 5 a.m. weight-lifting sessions under coach Tracy Branch. Adonis benched up to 225 pounds.
In the wrestling room, coaches Jorge Otero, Aaron Rowe, Hugh Koontz, and Nolan Gerwitz — along with his incredibly supportive teammates — were encouraging while always holding Adonis to his best.
Meanwhile, his mom Demetra saw that Adonis was well-nurtured. Older siblings Jalen, twin sisters Ashanti and Zabrina, along with his aunt Aretha, provided invaluable love and support.
All this effort and support culminated in a 32-6 senior record. But it was not without a few hurdles, beginning with a second-place finish at regionals.
“Adonis took that loss hard,” his dad said. “We began to question if the dream of a state title would ever happen.”
Wisely, Demetra reminded both son and father: “Adonis never prayed or asked God to win a regional title. He asked Him to win a state title. We (often) want God to do and act what and when we want Him to do it. But when we wanted it, it was not yet His time.”
Seeding for the Virginia High School state tournament is based on how a wrestler finishes at regionals. Thus, Adonis entered state as the No. 2 seed out of his regional tournament. In the Round of 16, he began his quest by downing South Lakes’ Aiden Sanders, 7-0.
In the quarters, Adonis downed the top seed in his region, Ryan Saunders of Battlefield, dominating him in a 12-1 major decision to earn a spot in the 2022 state semifinals, where he faced another No. 1 regional seed, Caden Smith of James W. Robinson.
Sanderlin relates how Adonis’ “very dynamic, always entertaining” style backs his opponents into a corner with a relentless attack. Yet in the state semis, his opponent’s escape put Adonis behind in the third period with just seconds left in the match.
This was just the moment for which Adonis had practiced, perspired, and prepared for. Reminisces Jerrold: “When he was down 3-2, our trust and faith never wavered. We questioned but did not doubt.”
“This was the kid we had circled before the tournament, the one we knew we had to beat,” continues Sanderlin. “After his opponent was warned for stalling with 20 seconds remaining, he knew he could no longer back up. He had to face Adonis on his terms.”
For Adonis, this meant, “if I pushed him, I knew he would break.”
Latching onto a single leg with all his might, Adonis circled behind to score the go-ahead takedown with seven seconds left, earning a 4-3 thriller of a win and sending the crowd into rousing applause for the lone Eagle to advance to the championship finals.
Adonis’ finals opponent was Lake Braddock’s Korlan Tran, a seasoned competitor who had downed the No. 3 seed in his region 9-1 and had also cruised to a 15-0 tech fall and an 8-2 decision.
When it came time to wrestle for the Virginia state championship, Adonis was in control throughout the match and his 5-1 title victory brought the audience to its feet for a champion born without soles, but one who possessed both soul and heart.
What aspect of character has helped Adonis succeed where others have not?
“My most successful attribute is that I accept reality for what I have been given and deal with it,” he said. “I know I only have to surpass and to overcome.
“People want to focus on the end result, but the previous platforms were not big enough for the moment,” Jerrold said. “In the state finals, God showed up and put Adonis on his shoulders.
“When I look back at this touching journey – and a journey it has been – I recall the untold story of the work it took to get him here.
“The world sees a kid with special needs. To us, he is just special. God has placed people in our lives with a purpose. We have been blessed with Adonis, who has inspired us one and all.”