The grip strength and range of motion in the right arm of River Hill's Sebastian Ames is limited because of congenital nerve damage. It has made all that the senior wrestler has accomplished even more impressive.
Ames has won 36 matches, advancing to the Howard County finals, qualifying for this weekend's state tournament, and leading River Hill to county and region tournament and dual meet championships.
"I never really tried to think of it as being a disadvantage, I just go out there and I can pretty much do what everyone else is doing, and if not I think of a way to make up for it," said Ames, who wrestles in the 170-pound weight class. "It's never been a thing to me. Sometimes I'll wrestle someone and they'll find out later down the road and say, 'What happened?' not realizing that it's always been like that. It just doesn't affect me that much, it's not too apparent."
A major reason that Ames' underdeveloped arm has not held him back is because of the work he has put in on the things he can control.
"Sebastian's character, dedication and work ethic has contributed to all of his success. He always wanted to excel," coach Brandon Lauer said. "He went all in. This is all because he worked his butt off."
While competing with essentially one arm would seemingly put Ames at an obvious disadvantage, especially in a sport like wrestling, that is clearly not the case.
"It's different because he forces kids into his wheelhouse, his strength," Lauer said. "He figures out the pressure his opponent gives him and builds off of that. He finds their center of gravity."
As for opponents trying to take advantage of Ames' perceived weakness, that has never been an issue.
"Maybe they do, but I haven't realized it very often ... I can usually get out of it and just work on moves," said Ames, who also enjoys playing tennis with friends. "If I'm pushing the pace the way I normally do in matches, I'm attacking and they don't have a chance to try to use it against me."
Ames first discovered wrestling as a freshman through future teammate Logan Kirby (195).
"After (football) workouts one morning (Kirby) said he was going to wrestling practice and that I should come with him," Ames said. "I met Lauer there and I liked it and I took the camp the next week."
Kirby, now a three-time county champion and state finalist, said that he immediately noticed something peculiar about Ames' arm on the football field.
But being the wrestling junkie that he is, Kirby was well aware of the story of Anthony Robles, the 2011 NCAA 125-pound champion who was born with only one leg.
"I thought if (Robles) could do it, anyone can," said Kirby, who has committed to wrestle for Harvard next year. "(Ames) has big strong legs and can generate a lot of power. I knew if he could figure out a style to suit his situation he could be a serious contributor."
Ames spent his first two years learning the sport at the JV level.
"Early on he did well on JV, he was physically more gifted in all other areas of his body," Lauer said. "He was able to manhandle kids."
But when Ames got the varsity call last year as a junior, it was a different story. He finished 12-17 and placed fifth at the county tournament.
"I really wasn't pleased with the outcome of my season ... so I just went with Cory (Daniel), Michael (Beck) and Logan and a couple of other guys, and we trained and were all on the (Maryland) National Team and we went to Fargo, and I got a lot better last summer."
Daniel, Beck and Kirby have won a combined eight county titles. Still, Lauer did not know how much improvement was possible.
"You never know what kind of result will come from a summer of work. Will he go 17-12?" Lauer said. "I had no real expectations for him other than to contribute and be a tough kid."
Lauer and Kirby both described Ames' improvement from last year to this year as shocking.
"He can score on anybody ... his center of gravity is so low, he's quick, he's strong, he's athletic, and now he's experienced," Lauer said. "By the time (opponents) realize (his arm is limited) the match is halfway over and he's coming with his offense."
Ames also developed into a team leader this year.
"In practice he's a leader," said Kirby, a team captain. "He's really outspoken and everything he says matters. He leads but he does it in a funny way."
Now, after placing third at the 4A/3A East regional tournament at Northeast High March 1, Ames has a strong shot to fulfill a dream by earning a spot on the podium at Cole Field House for the state tournament next weekend.
"I would always go and watch the past three years and then leave, and I never really thought of myself wrestling there. I'm pretty excited for it," said Ames, who aspires to become a physical therapist after college. "Considering that last year I wasn't one of the guys the team looked to or relied upon to get points, and this year being one of the guys who is always reliedupon to get a win, it feels pretty good to know that I didn't let anyone down in any way. It felt good to do my job."