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Powhatan wrestler, born deaf, prefers to wrestle that way

POWHATAN, Va. -- Most teenagers would rather do anything than give up their electronic devices. For the most part, they make life easier, but sometimes less becomes more, and simple beats complex.

The best athletes in any sport are usually the ones who love it the most.

Seventeen-year-old J.D. McMillan of Powhatan began playing football as a youth, but there was something about wrestling that grabbed his interest like a full nelson, and never let go.

"I'm more of a one-on-one, it's all on me rather than it being a team thing," JD explained.  "I love wrestling for the sole fact that you can't blame anybody else but yourself."

"J.D. is a strong, physical wrestler," said Zach Olsen, Powhatan's assistant wrestling coach. "What you see is what you get and when you shake hands, he comes at you."

J.D. won a state title as an 8th grader and was the Conference 20 champion and regional runner-up last year.

As sporting events go, wrestling meets are as full of excitement and energy as anything else.

But where most wrestlers hear the screaming and shouting of excited parents, fans and coaches, J.D. wrestles in complete silence.

J.D. was born deaf and has worn cochlear implants since he was a toddler. It was his first meeting with a former wrestling coach that reverted his wrestling world from full volume to silence.

"My mom came in, told him hey, my son is deaf," J.D. recalled. "We have these cochlear implants. Mike asked if they were insured, found out they were, put them in his pocket, told her she can come back and pick me up at 4."

"He loved it, loved it from the first day," said J.D.'s mom, Jill.

"It was so him."

It may not make sense to many of us to take an ability away from an athlete to make them better, but that's what has happened to J.D. His current coaches believe he wouldn't be as good as he is if he could actually hear during matches.

"It helps me focus" J.D. said.  "I don't have to worry about all that outside noise of parents screaming, the other refs screaming, the other coaches screaming. I can just focus on my match and what I need to do to win."

"It's always a shock. It catches the refs by surprise" Olsen added.  "No matter how many refs we get on a consistent basis, you have to remind them you've gotta touch him or he won't stop."

"Mike taught me, when I wrestle, I'm not going to get anything from the refs. I'm not going to get anything from the other team. I'm not going to get anything other than me doing my hard work" said J.D.

Mike, is Mike Walter, the founder of the Blackhawk Wrestling gym in Powhatan, and a former Special Agent with the Virginia State Police. Walter was killed in the line of duty in May of 2017. Like so many he trained and mentored in the past, J.D. now wrestles with the memory of Walter's influence every time he walks onto the mat.

"He sat down when he didn't need to and we learned our own signals and our own sign language for me on the mat" J.D. said. "I looked at him and he would let me know what I needed to do."

"Looking at Mike, you wouldn't know the amount that he's done for this community, for kids in general, giving them a real chance to succeed against adversity" Olsen said. "Just showing that he cared."

"You can't replace him" said Jill, fighting back tears. "I miss him, We all do. He's been very important in our home. With J.D. especially, there's a hole that a young man shouldn't have to have."

"His dream was, on his last match of high school, was to have Mike coach him and now he can't have that."

"Every time I look in the stands, I want to see him, but he's not there" J.D. said. "There are moments when I'm wrestling when I think, dang, I wish he could be here to watch this."

J.D. has a record of 26-6 this year and looks to win his 100th career match at the 4A regionals.

To nominate someone for our Beyond The Roster segment, email us at beyondtheroster@wtvr.com.