MORGANTOWN — They were honoring him for his courage, although he never really saw it that way.

Yeah, he had cystic fibrosis, a terrible disease that has no cure, and that made what he had chosen to do difficult.

But Greg White wanted to wrestle, and if he had battle through this heredity functional disorder of the exocrine glands that caused faulty digestion and a never-ending build up of thick, sticky mucus that sometimes made breathing a monumentally difficult chore, then that’s the way it would be.

Greg White was at home on the mat, had been there since his father, Donnie, an assistant coach at North Marion High, had introduced him to the sport at 4.

That wasn’t courage he displayed as be fought against all odds, became the sixth-place finisher in the state wrestling meet, then went on to become a Division 1-A wrestler at West Virginia University. That was simply doing what he loved to do, what he needed to do.

What he was doing now, on this night in Charleston last week, that took courage, to stand up before an audience and accept the National Wrestling Hall of Fame Medal of Courage from Hall of Fame wrestling coach Bobby Douglas, then to make a speech.

Well, he’d rather be trying to get out of sleeper hold with his hands tied behind his back.

Courage?

“Looking back, it maybe it was courageous,” Greg White said the other night. “At the time, it was just something I wanted to do. This award caught me off guard, really. I’m sure there are others out there who did more than that.”

Perhaps there are, but there can be no denying that White went through an awful lot to reach the heights that he reached

It started, as he points out, at age 4 when Donnie White decided his son had to do something that would improve him physically and mentally.

“I wanted him to be involved in something,” he said for an article in another newspaper six years ago. “It’s not good for anyone to lay around and feel sorry for himself.”

Sounds good, but the doctors didn’t necessarily agree.

“The doctors didn’t like it real well,” the younger White admitted. “Most of the kids with it don’t do anything. My parents always had a different outlook on it.”

Donnie White was most poignant about the decision to get his ill son involved in wrestling.

“Everyone was against it. But it was good for him,” he said. “A lot of people grab a crutch if it’s there for them. He wasn’t going to do that. Hard work never killed anyone.”

Gaining weight is always a problem with cystic fibrosis, to say nothing of having to cherish every breath you take.

Asked to explain what he was going through as he wrestled, White replied:

“You just have a constant cough. From all the coughing you might not get a lot of sleep at night. You get run down from the coughing.”

Oddly, about the only thing keeping him going was the wrestling.

“As long as I’m wrestling and I keep the lungs clear it doesn’t affect me a whole lot,” he said.

It was one thing to wrestle in high school, quite another to move it up a step to college. He wasn’t ever going to be an All-American and coach Craig Turnbull probably could have found someone with more potential than Greg White for his team, but the veteran wrestling coach saw that extra something White possessed that would demand he be given a chance.

“I was proud to have had Greg White in our program,” Turnbull said on Tuesday. “He proved that no matter what you can live life to its fullest.”

He went to school, to practice and to treatments for the disease, fighting all the way.

Being part of a team, having a goal, all of it carried him through.

“I told him I really believe there’s a collective spirit,” Turnbull said back when White was wrestling for him. “It’s not that every person in that wrestling room is the next national champion or All-American. But when there are good people in the room who are positive and enthusiastic about what they’re doing, there’s a contribution made spiritually.”

“It was a hectic schedule,” White admits as he looks back on it. “But it was a challenge. I love the sport. I did not want to give up wrestling when I got out of college. I decided to go to West Virginia to give it a try and see if I could make it.”

That was then. Today, however, wrestling is in Greg White’s past.

“I miss it a lot,” he admits. “I’m just a competitive person.”

He works instead in his father’s family pump machine repair business but has that same feeling he had when he came out of high school.

“I like to be challenged,” he said.

And that means what?

“Eventually, I’d like to get into coaching,” he answered.

At present he’s helping on and off with the North Marion team, doing some individual work with kids. But it isn’t easy. This is a disease that doesn’t go away and he admits he’s having some health problems now.

But he isn’t about to let that get in his way, just as he didn’t two decades ago when he began wrestling.

“I’m proud I did it,” he said. “I did it at the time because I liked it, not to prove anything.”

Perhaps not, but he wound up proving to us all that anything is possible if you have the desire and determination to do it.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com

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