First Posted: 4/23/2008

COLDWATER — Dustin Carter got the attention of the assembly of Coldwater Middle School students Wednesday morning before he ever spoke a word.The Hillsboro High School senior, who became a coast to coast inspirational story when he competed in this year’s state wrestling tournament despite having no hands or feet, needed only to lead off his program by showing a video of how he handles everyday life to grab his audience.Carter has had just the upper parts of his arms and legs since the age of 5 when his limbs were amputated because of a rare blood disease.Winning 40 of 44 wrestling matches this season, including one in the state tournament,  would be amazing on its own.But, as the video showed, he learned about determination long before he got onto a wrestling mat. He just refined it and amplified it there.Before the students ever saw him in person, they watched silently as he did everyday things like dressing, eating, shaving, brushing his teeth, talking on his cell phone and writing in clear, strong penmanship.Carter spoke to high school and middle school students as part of Coldwater’s Get R.E.A.L —Responsible Enough About Life — program. Today they will hear from former Olympian and world-record holder in the mile, Jim Ryun.“If you’ve got an opportunity, try it,” Carter told the assembly. “Don’t say that it’s too hard.”Life certainly was not easy for Carter after losing his arms and legs. One day he was a healthy 5-year old who swam, played T-ball, was starting soccer and ran constantly. Then, suddenly, his temperature soared to 104 degrees, his body swelled far beyond its normal size and he was diagnosed with a rare blood infection, similar to meningitis.His chances to survive did not look good. To save his life, doctors amputated all four of his limbs.He wears prosthetic legs in day-to-day life, but takes them off when he wrestles and was without them on the stage on Wednesday. He used to wear electronic arms, but no longer does.When Carter was in the eighth grade, he decided to become a wrestler. He struggled early in his career, but had winning records as a sophomore and junior. Then came his magical senior season in the 103-pound weight class.His time on the mat has been the highlight of his life since he took up the sport, Carter said.“Nothing is close to wrestling. I love wrestling more than girls,” he said with a laugh. “I found wrestling and since then my life has really blossomed.”He wants to continue his wrestling career in college and is in the process of deciding between attending Mount St. Joseph College and Wilmington College.Beyond college, his aspirations are those of most people. “I just want to live a life like anybody else,” he said.But the fact he has already lived a life unlike anything all but a few people could imagine makes Carter someone strangers in all walks of life, along with the media, seek out.Media outlets from as far away as Korea have called to interview him. But the world has reached out to him in a more personal way too.“A couple people have called me because they’ve heard my story and they just needed to speak to me,” Carter said.“I’ll have parents call me because their kids are going through the same thing I went through and they really need somebody to pick them up. I’ve had a dad from Texas call me. I love changing people’s lives and I love that my story can do that.”