Courageous former wrestler ready to grapple with c...

Courageous former wrestler ready to grapple with classes as MTSU

Hunter Garstin was a wrestler at Independence High School in Franklin, Tennessee, and now he’s ready to face his toughest opponent to date: a university.

Garstin is preparing to start classes Monday, Aug. 28, as a freshman psychology major at MTSU. His schedule includes continuing physical therapy due to an accident when he was a high school freshman.

At a 2013 tournament in Huntsville, Garstin sustained a spinal cord injury only about 20 seconds into a wrestling match, paralyzing him from the neck down. He expects to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

“I think if I keep going and hitting it hard that maybe one day I’ll be walking on a walker or across the room or something, which I would be perfectly OK with,” said Garstin.

The road to high school commencement was interrupted by his injury. Garstin underwent surgery to fuse two vertebrae in his neck and spent a week in the hospital intensive care unit, followed by four months of inpatient and outpatient therapy. He worked at his rehabilitation for eight hours a day with intermittent breaks.

Incoming MTSU freshman Hunter Garstin sits behind the wheel of his vehicle with sister Hailey Garstin looking in through the window. (photo submitted)

Incoming MTSU freshman Hunter Garstin sits behind the wheel of his vehicle as sister Hailey Garstin looks in with a smile. (photo submitted)

Garstin missed several weeks of school in his sophomore year and describes his junior year as “two weeks on, two weeks off.” He even went to Switzerland three times for stem-cell therapy. He started driving during his senior year, which was key to his physical and psychological freedom.

Garstin walked across the stage at Independence High in May and received his diploma. His next challenge will be to obtain his college degree from MTSU.

“It was the smartest choice at the time, and I really liked the campus after going to orientation and seeing everything MTSU had to offer,” said Garstin.

A cousin, a friend and a fourth roommate to be determined will share an off-campus apartment with Garstin as he becomes adjusted to university life. But one thing he won’t be doing is watching wrestling on television.

“Not only is it not really interesting to watch anymore, but it just kind of brings up memories, both good and bad,” he said.

One good memory is June 6, the night Garstin received the Kaia Jergenson Courage Award at the Tennessean Sports Awards at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville.

The award is named for a former Lipscomb University basketball player who nearly died from meningitis.

Garstin can use most of his upper body with some limited mobility in his fingers, and he has some feeling in his legs. As he continues with physical therapy, he hopes to improve further and perhaps walk at his college commencement.

“There really is no true prognosis,” he said. “It’s what you make of it and what you put into it.”

— Gina K. Logue (