Jay Spencer set his sights on winning an Alabama state wrestling championship and four years later he saw his vision come true.
The irony of those idioms is not lost on Spencer’s fans. The 160-pound athlete who recently graduated from Huntsville’s St. John Paul II High School is legally blind but that didn’t stop his perseverance in the sport he loves.
Spencer became the first wrestler in his school’s history to win a state championship. His words after winning — “Don’t let what anyone thinks about you change how you think. As long as you believe you can do something then you can” — made their way to ESPN’s SportsCenter.
Spencer described winning as an “amazing feeling.”
“I finally did it. I can reset now. It was overwhelming relief. Going into the season I knew I could win. If I didn’t it was because of mental barriers,” he said.
Last year he finished fourth in the state in the 152-pound class.
Patrick McCarron, a freshman at Valley Forge Military Academy and College in Wayne, Pennsylvania, who wrestled for St. John Paul II in 2018, said he knew Spencer would win because he always gives 100%.
“Jay is very inspiring to those with disabilities. Jay never let his lack of vision be an excuse for him not to do something. He made sure to work as hard if not harder than everyone else so he can be above mediocre. It is paying off. I think it was fantastic Jay got recognized on ESPN. He definitely deserves all the attention.”
Spencer’s coach at St. John Paul II, James Dowd, agreed.
“Being on ESPN and receiving the amount of views he has gotten was a blessing to showcase Jay’s message of working hard to achieve your goals,” Dowd said.
Faith has been important throughout Spencer’s life. At age 3 he was diagnosed with Leber congenital amaurosis 10, an eye disorder that affects the retina, the specialized tissue at the back of the eye that detects light and color. Though he has vision at the corner of his left eye, Spencer has no memories of having full sight.
That could change, however.
Spencer has been part of a trial testing a gene-editing procedure on his condition. Having been part of a clinical trial, he will be one of the first patients to receive the treatment, according to his mother, Gina Spencer.
“The possibility of being sighted again could very well change the trajectory of his life,” she said.
Asking God for help
Spencer said his parents have always told him when hard times come to ask God for help and strength. He has read in the Bible of God performing miracles “out of the goodness of His heart.” Now a medical miracle may be on the horizon but Spencer knows his vision and his future is in God’s hands.
“My dad has been telling me my purpose is going to be to help people in similar situations,” Spencer said. “My purpose is going to be to help people by how I reach out to others.”