“The tables have turned I am now the stud that wrestlers are afraid to face on the mat.” Caiden Hooks
By Ron Sandison
Caiden Hooks finds motivation to overcome every challenge by his favorite Scripture 2 Corinthians 5:7, “For we live by faith, not by sight.”
Multi-talented Caiden qualified for the Ohio State wrestling tournament, is a straight-A student, a member of the national honor society, and plays the piano, trumpet, and multiple instruments.
After qualifying for the State Final, Caiden exclaimed, “I was amazed at my journey and how far I’ve come; now I’ll be competing against the best of the best.” Caiden had both eyes removed by the age of four due to his battle with eye cancer and was diagnosed with autism at eight. Autism causes Caiden to take everything literal and struggle with change to his routines and in social interaction.
Wrestling could be Caiden greatest challenge. Caiden’s coaches have to talk to him during his matches and describe his location so he does not go out of bounds. This requires intense concentration for Caiden to hear his coach’s voice with the sound of shouting fans. Having autism he had to learn to adjust to his sensory issues of sound. In between matches Caiden wears noise cancelling headphones which empower him to recharge.
I’ve always struggled with the noise of crowds, loud gyms, and crying babies in the mall. Wresting has enabled me to block sounds out by focusing on a single voice and COVID-19 caused there to be less fans in the stands and this helped me reach the State Final.
During wrestling practices his coaches describe in detail each sequences and the motions required for a new wrestling move. Caiden shares, “Wrestling empowers me to be in the zone and use my intense ability to focus.” He has learned to overcome sight challenges in wrestling matches by using his sense of touch to his advantage. “Touching the palms of my opponent enables me to know their location on the mat. My endurance exercises and weightlifting enable me to overpower my opponent. Autism causes me to have a perfectionist mindset and never give up. I’ve to finish every exercise in practice. When we do an extra ‘overtime workout,’ I need my coaches to let me know beforehand since a change in routine throws me off.”
Caiden’s parents encouraged his faith in Christ and participation in social activities. His dad, James Hooks from an every age encouraged Caiden, “You’re not disabled, you’re differently abled, its logistics, we’ll figure out how to do things differently but you can do anything that anyone else can do.” Caiden’s family relocated from Hudsonville, Michigan to central Ohio so he could attended a specialized school for the blind.
In second grade, Caiden experienced bullying in gym class, “The low sight students bullied the zero vision students like me by stealing our clothes and hiding them. These bullies laughed at me while I searched for my clothes in the changing room.”
Yet in second grade, Caiden begin to wrestle. “I loved the deep pressure of wrestling it served as sensory coping mechanism. Winning matches made me feel good and like a normal kid.”
James supported Caiden’s dream by coaching him in wrestling and athletics. Caiden also participated in Cub Scouts, church youth groups, swimming, goal ball (blind version of indoors soccer).
“When Caiden was younger social integration and emotional expressions were a challenge for him. He fly off the handle when emotions become strong on the mat. Wrestling and music helped Caiden to regulate his emotions and develop self-esteem. Now Caiden is very confident and social with his peers.”
Caiden who has curly cooper color hair has earned the nickname ‘Cooper Hammer’ for his ability to be on top and win matches. For Christmas he received a cooper hammer which makes him feel calm and collective before his matches. James share, “When Caiden is anxious I hand him the hammer to remind him who he is.”
The wrestling team and coaches support Caiden by hosting an annual Dine in the Dark charity meal. This event creates an awareness of the challenges of blindness. During the event half the participants are blindfold and the other half led them to the room and help them use their utensils to eat. When the first group finishes they switch roles. This teaches the team the importance of trust and vulnerability.
Calden shares a humorous moment. Finishing his match a massive wrestler from the opposing team placed his sweat drenched socks on the bench. Caiden reaching for his socks instead picked up the sweat soaked ones. After putting them on he asked, “Why are my socks soaking wet?” as his teammates roared with laughter.
Caiden advice to teenagers with autism, “Build a support team of family and friends. Perseverance and faith are the fuel to success and use your gifts for God’s glory.”
Reflecting on his successful wrestling season with a 27-5 record, Caiden states, “I prayed, ‘God use my wrestling for your glory’ and God replied, ‘You want a platform here it is.'”
Caiden is featured in a key scene in the movie A Walk with Grace (2019) on the wrestling mat, competing against Ian Grey (Luke). He is the first autistic blind wrestler to compete in a State Final, “The tables have turned I am now the stud that wrestlers are afraid to face on the mat.”
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum will be released on May 25, 2021.
He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.