GAFFNEY, S.C. — Imagine you are 13 years old.
You are just starting middle school, concerned if the girl across the room thinks you’re cute and wondering if you did well on the algebra test the day before. You fight with your parents about everything because they just don’t ‘get it.’ You may even hang out with kids who aren’t the best influences, but you feel like you belong.
It’s a complicated time for everyone. You are a basket case of hormones to say the least.
Now imagine you are that same 13-year-old and you are diagnosed with bone cancer. The doctors tell you that you have two choices — you can keep the leg, but you will die; or you can cut the leg off, but live.
Being a teenager is tough enough, but dealing with bone cancer on top of it doesn’t seem fair. Welcome to the life of Limestone College wrestler Kyle Long.
At age 13, Long was diagnosed with bone cancer. The most amazing part of his ordeal was his attitude toward the disease.
“The situation was either you give up a part of your body, or you are going to die. It was pretty clean-cut choice for me. It wasn’t a tough choice to make,” Long said. “It was either stand in the fire, or get out of the fire.”
Long speaks of the decision as if it was no big deal. To many people, having to give up a leg would be a pretty big deal. To Long, not having a leg is now just part of everyday life, and he doesn’t even seem to notice.
Even with his disability, Long has been succeeded as a student-athlete. As a senior physical education major, he is proving that he can do anything that a person with two legs can do and more.
Long didn’t even consider wrestling until he got to high school.
He went to his physical education class one day as a freshman, and his P.E. teacher had decided that they were going to try wrestling. After learning the basics that day his teacher, Bobby Shriner, who was also the high school wrestling coach, approached Long about coming out for the team. At that point, the wrestling season was only three weeks away.
“I just started showing up at their preseason workouts, trying to learn. Then when the season started, I just started wrestling with the team,” Long said.
Long grew to love wrestling, and became passionate about it. He realized that wrestling was something that he wanted to do as long as he could, but to continue after high school, he had to go to college.
Education had never been an important thing for him. Until he started wrestling, he admits that he hung out with the wrong crowd and never had given a serious thought to going to college.
“[Wrestling] is more or less the reason why I pursued school in the first place. If I didn’t get the opportunity to wrestle in college then I probably wouldn’t have gone to college,” Long said. “I may not have even graduated high school if not for wrestling. I was kind of hanging out with wrong crowd until I started wrestling.
“Wrestling gave me a reason to pursue academics.”
In a sense, wrestling gave Long opportunities that before weren’t possible.
Realizing that he had to become more serious about his education to get to college, he buckled down. Then after a successful senior season on the mat where he finished with a 53-15 record, he was able to attend Spartanburg Methodist College. Following two successful seasons there, he was offered the opportunity to wrestle for Limestone.
A couple of nights before my graduation at Spartanburg Methodist, coach [Trent] Goodale called me up and asked if I would like to wrestle for Limestone,” Long said. “Of course I said yes, and I took off from there.”
Goodale says what he admired most about Long is his toughness, and doesn’t back down from anyone. He was able to see that up close since Limestone competes against SMC reguarly.
“Since he was at SMC, I got to see him quite a bit. I liked how he was a tough competitor and a really hard worker,” Goodale said. “His defense is limited, and he has a smaller arsenal than most, but the stuff he does, he makes sure that he great at it and because of that I thought he could help our program.”
Wrestling has given Long an opportunity to make something out of his life. He admits that without wrestling he probably wouldn’t have gone to college, and because wrestling has given him so much, he wants to give back.
“I have a love for the sport. Most of that comes from the opportunities that it has given me,” Long said. “The fact is without wrestling I wouldn’t be where I am at right now. I hope to extend those opportunities to other kids when I am through with college.”
Much like his high school coach who introduced him to wrestling, Long is majoring in physical education with a hope to teach and coach high school wrestling.
Because someone looked out for him in high school, he wants to do the same for others.
“I want to coach on the high school level because that is the key time at developing kids for life. You can help identify the kids who can be good at this, and help push them to go to the places they need to go,” Long said. “I can also help kids to not go down the wrong path, and help them to reach their potential and not waste it.”
Sports brings people of many different backgrounds together. In Long’s case, sports provided a means to an education that otherwise may not have happened.
Wrestling allowed him to reach his potential. Now he’s on the verge of helping others to reach theirs.