Disability doesn’t slow down Cloquet wrestlerBorn without half of his right leg and missing several fingers, Cloquet Junior Jordan Baker has never let his disabilities interfere with the sport he loves most ... wrestling.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
CLOQUET – Sitting on the locker room bench getting ready for wrestling practice Tuesday morning, 16-year-old Jordan Baker never thought twice that he was at a disadvantage – despite having only one leg and five fingers.
He’s a wrestler. Plain and simple.
Born without half of his right leg and missing several fingers, Baker never let his disabilities interfere with the sport he’s loved most. Starting with competitions before his kindergarten days, the upbeat Baker has been wrestling for roughly a dozen years and currently serves a vital role on Cloquet-Esko’s ever-growing program.
“When I was younger, I felt like it slowed me down, but I never whined about it or complained,” Baker said of his physical disadvantages. “I’ve never been intimidated. I’ve always known my full potential.”
Baker and the Lumberjacks (1-4) – winners over Virginia – have been preparing for their home opener Thursday night, when they host both Ogilvie and Milaca.
The Cloquet junior explained that wrestling is a family sport. His father wrestled collegiately. Older brother Jake also wrestled for Cloquet-Esko, graduating last year. Oldest brother, David, is a professional wrestling promoter in the entertainment business.
“I grew up around it,” Baker said. “Wrestling is in our family.”
So it came as no surprise when Baker’s father signed him up to wrestle in the Superior youth program before kindergarten. After a short time traveling across the bridge, Baker open-enrolled in Cloquet as a fifth-grader and joined the Lumberjacks’ upstart program. Living in Rice Lake Township on the outskirts of Duluth, the hour-and-a-half round trip to Cloquet hasn’t ever been a concern for Baker and his family.
“My parents have always supported me 100 percent,” Baker said of father Joel and mother Julie, who drove back-and-forth until their sons were old enough to drive. “I always had opportunities and have been open to things.”
Cloquet-Esko Coach Al Denman was open when talking about Baker’s dedication to wrestling. To him, Baker is an inspiration through and though.
“I admire him immensely,” Denman said. “He’s been around here a long time and has been extraordinarily dedicated. The courage it takes to be a wrestler in the first place is very intimidating, but then, for Jordan to lack some of the physical tools that other wrestlers have, puts him at a huge deficit.”
Although noting that Baker has better mobility than most, Denman said his 5-foot-8, 126-pounder is limited to drive off of just one leg, while he has a difficult time grasping his opponents with only five fully-developed fingers.
Baker said he’s learned to adapt.
“It’s a little different,” he said while getting in his wrestling position down on his right knee with his hands sprawled on the floor. “Balancing is tough.”
Unlike other wrestlers, Baker rarely can stand on his lone leg and keep his attack. Yet, 152-pound Cloquet senior teammate Cohen Nelson said that doesn’t matter.
“Just to watch him go out there is crazy,” Nelson said. “His upper body is so much stronger than everyone else’s. He has so much attack and just never quits.”
Baker, who sports a prosthetic leg during practices only when needed during drills or conditioning, is one of the team’s fastest runners, Nelson said.
“Doing walls, sprints, runs, whatever, he’s definitely always in the top five,” Nelson said. “It’s crazy. He’s such a hard worker.”
In addition to his hard work ethic, Denman said Baker is quite the comedian as well, laughing when describing his always-positive attitude towards life.
“If there is laughter on the bus, Jordan is usually my first suspect,” Denman said. “He’s always in the middle of it. He’s a very fun kid.”
“You never get any sleep on the bus,” added Nelson with a chuckle.
Although easy going, Baker is as polite as anyone, according to Denman. Surely, times can be tough for the wrestler, but Denman said Baker is as respectful a competitor as they come.
“He’s had some difficult times, but win or lose, Jordan comes off the mat like a true sportsman,” Denman said. “Jordan would trade places with other wrestlers in a heartbeat, but I’ve never seen him have a negative day. It’s an inspiration to see somebody with that kind of courage, to go out and do so well. Jordan will be one who is unforgettable.”
Baker said he never dwells on the disabilities that he was born with. He said he just continues focusing on improving his techniques, skills and making his next move when wrestling. He might even join wheelchair racing in track next spring.
“I’ve never been restricted in activities,” Baker said. “It never slows me down.”
“Looking down and seeing that he only has one leg doesn’t ever stop him,” said Nelson. “He’s a kid that just goes out and continues to get better and better and better.”