SHIPPENSBURG, PA—At first glance, 17-year-old Jeremy Davis looks like any other member of the Shippensburg Lions wrestling team. He jostles for key position against his teammates, participates in spin and takedown drills, and seems to enjoy the challenges of his sport.
But when the coach's whistle blows, a fire is lit in his eyes. In a tone of voice that could only be described as driven, Jeremy says to his wrestling partner, "C'mon, man, I don't want you to show me your best out there. Give me a break, okay?"
More than his mental attitude sets him apart. As Jeremy walks toward the sidelines and his 5-foot-9 frame comes closer into view, it becomes impossible not to notice the striking, but merely physical, difference between him and the rest of this Quad-A wrestling team: Due to a rare congenital disorder, Jeremy was born with only one arm.
While most would have let the deformity relegate them to watching from the stands, Jeremy was determined to participate in high school athletics. Yet he made it clear from the first day of wrestling practice that he would only join the team under one condition: that no matter what, his teammates would always take it easy on him. Jeremy made sure they knew he would rather quit than let his teammates treat him just like everyone else, and made it clear he wanted them to let him win whenever possible.
"When I first joined the wrestling team, everyone went out of their way to act as if I was just another wrestler," Davis said. "That made absolutely no sense to me. I had to tell them, 'Fellas, just because I only have one arm doesn't mean that I don't want you to recognize that fact. Come on, I'm at a clear disadvantage here! Ease up!'"
"Ever since I spoke openly about my condition, and the guys started treating me like I was completely different and separate from the rest of the team, everything has been great," a smiling Davis added. "Now my teammates aren't scared to really get in there, to let me put them into these really cool holds. They let me pin them, too. It's awesome."
A four-sport athlete, Jeremy enjoys—some would even say thrives on—the fact that his fellow competitors take it easy on him while he scores wide-open baskets, gets base hits, and makes tackles. No matter what sport he is playing, Jeremy demands that his opponents give him nothing more than 75 percent, and has been known to become enraged when his opponents aren't letting up enough.
"If I sense, even for a second, that the people I'm going up against aren't feeling sorry for me or taking pity on me, I'll stop right there in the middle of the game and say, 'You need to hold back more. You need to let me sack that quarterback,'" Davis said. "Look, I like sacking the quarterback, okay? It's a great feeling. And if the only way for me to get that feeling is for somebody to feel bad for me, so be it."
"I might have a disability. In fact, I do have a disability. That's the point. But that doesn't mean I don't want my opponent to concede with everything he's got," Davis added. "I mean, I only have one arm, for Christ's sake!"
To many, Jeremy is an inspiration. Corey Hamlin, one of his teammates on the varsity baseball team, said that Jeremy is so passionate and focused on being singled out that, if you forget he has a physical deformity for even a moment, he will go out of his way to remind you of his affliction.
"He always says, 'Don't you ever, ever, ever treat me like I'm one of the guys,'" Hamlin said. "One time in practice, I made the mistake of throwing him a normal fastball. He immediately threw down his bat and asked me what the hell I was trying to prove. I got the message loud and clear. I never tried to strike him out as an equal again."
"To me, he's a teammate second, and a guy who just happens to have one arm first," Hamlin continued. "And Jeremy wouldn't want it any other way."
Jeremy's parents, Carol and Andrew Davis, said their son always wanted to be defined by his rare condition. They pointed out that, even at an early age, they were impressed by how often their child would use his handicap as an excuse to gain a few more yards or get a do-over on a free throw.
"We never had to rush onto the football field or basketball court to protect our son," Andrew Davis said. "Jeremy would have hated that. Instead, he wanted to be the one to point out his handicap when someone stole the ball while he was dribbling. During his sophomore year, the football coach put him in at running back on the last play of the game, and he rushed for a 65-yard touchdown. Even though the opposing team just stepped back and let him score, Jeremy celebrated as if they had actually tried to tackle him. He didn't care. That takes guts."
"My son is my hero," Carol Davis chimed in with a warm smile. "Believe me, I wish I had the courage to tell people to lay off."