Wrestler With Special Needs Lives His Dream

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Wrestler With Special Needs Lives His Dream

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TROPIC, UT -

Seventeen-year-old Payton Johnson will not let anything get in his way. Despite having Down Syndrome, the teen is competing in wrestling events for his high school.

Payton wrestled in a match that mattered as much as any championship final. It's a feeling many high school wrestlers never get the chance to experience, winning a match at the state tournament.

"He was just glowing," recalled Payton's father Moyle Johnson.

His determination has earned him respect from all his peers. Watching him pin an opponent can be an emotional experience, even for people who don't know the teen.

Even the ref had tears in his eyes as 17-year-old Payton Johnson celebrated his win.

"He has a very special spirit of innocence and love and that touches people's hearts," said Payton's coach, Carlon Johnson.

Payton's parents said it's a great atmosphere for their son to be in.

"It's really awesome," Payton's mother, Tracy, said. "It's really good to see people with disabilities be included, and I'm glad that people are excited about it."

His teammates call him the backbone of the Bryce Valley wrestling team because he makes practice fun.

"He's just like a fun person to wrestle with," Teammate Adam Platt said. "He's probably my favorite person on the whole team to wrestle with."

Walker Smith from Escalante High School has wrestled Payton in the past, and even though he lets him win, he said getting pinned by Payton never feels like a loss.

"Everybody's excited when Payton gets a pin," Smith said. "When he wins, it's always exciting for everybody. Everybody's always happy about it."

"He smiles all the time, he jokes around," said Adam Platt. "He has a habit of tickling you when you're down."

Why pick wresting out of all the sports? "I get girls," Payton said.

Payton's mom said he's the healthiest he's ever been thanks to the sport. But win or lose, for Payton's parents, the best part of watching their son wrestle is seeing him being treated like everyone else.

"You look at his face and watch his eyes and they just glow because there is no difference between him and his teammates," Payton's father, Moyle Johnson, said.

Because Payton is in special education classes, he's able to stay in high school a little longer. His parents aren't sure when he'll graduate, but they're pretty certain he'll be affiliated with wrestling for many years to come.

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