Isaiah Bird doesn’t have a leg to stand on or a place to call home, but on the wrestling mat he has the heart of a gladiator and an infectious smile that can bring even a UFC champion to his knees.
This six-year-old gladiator, who was born without legs, lives in a shelter in Freeport, New York, with his mother and two-year-old brother. The mountainous adversity thrown upon him could break any normal man, but there is something to be said about the pure and innocent heart of a child, yearning only to be happy.
“He has no clue what’s going on in his life. He’s such a happy kid that he doesn’t know he doesn’t have a bed, doesn’t have a TV,” said Miguel Rodriguez, Isaiah’s wrestling coach, during an interview with Mark La Monica of Newsday. “…Wrestling is the only thing this kid talks about. In wrestling, he can actually feel normal because he’s the man.”
Wrestling is often considered the great equalizer in all forms of athletic competition. It’s a sport that isn’t dictated by size, strength or natural athletic ability. It’s a sport where anyone can be a giant or hero—regardless of how big they are.
The fact that Bird doesn’t have legs is irrelevant when he's on the mat. He wears his singlet proud, like a shiny suit of armor draped over a modern-day warrior. For a moment in time, everything else in Isaiah’s life fades away, and he is looked at and treated like every other kid.
He is viewed and treated as a gladiator.
“Yeah, I have no legs, but I don’t need no legs. I’m a wrestler, I’m a gladiator,” Bird told News 12 Long Island.
UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman knows a thing or two about hard times.
The undefeated UFC star entered his title bout with Anderson Silva nearly a year ago essentially bankrupt and homeless. Hurricane Sandy destroyed his home and most of his belongings, forcing him to move his wife and daughter into his parents’ basement.
In an interview with MMAFighting’s Chuck Mindenhall, Weidman’s coach, John Danaher, admitted he had to lend Weidman thousands of dollars out of his own pocket just to keep him afloat while he was preparing for Silva.
Of course, the struggle to the top often gets forgotten amongst the glitz and glamor of UFC superstardom, which Weidman certainly attained after defeating Silva for the world title. Despite his newfound fame, the former Hofstra All-American wrestler maintains a certain set of values that includes helping others struggling in life.
Weidman first heard about Bird’s story from a News 12 video posted on Facebook. His initial reaction was “shock” at the six-year-old’s ability to overcome overwhelming obstacles. After watching the video, there was no need of convincing for him to step in and use his fame and notoriety in hopes of lending a helping hand to Isaiah’s family.
“Who wouldn’t want to help a kid out like that? Anything I can do for a local wrestler, especially a kid who’s young and struggling, I was down,” Weidman told Newsday. “I hear he’s a sweetheart of a kid and a hard worker, and he’s winning his matches. He’s a little stud.”
Isaiah placed third in his age group and weight class at the New York Kid Wrestling Championships at Bay Shore in March, and he went on to finish sixth at “War at the Shore,” a national tournament held in New Jersey.
Bernadette Hopton, Isaiah’s mother, is thankful for Weidman’s efforts in helping her family get back on their feet. The UFC champ recently held a fundraiser at his gym in Garden City, New York, where all of the proceeds went to helping Bird’s family.
Nice news: the @ChrisWeidmanUFC fundraiser for legless wrestler Isaiah Bird, 6, raised more than $14,000 on June 1.— Mark La Monica (@LaMonicaMark) June 16, 2014
“We’ve been doing it alone for so long, so for someone to go out of their way to help, it’s a blessing,” said Hopton, according to Newsday.
Terminology such as heart, grit and determination sometimes become overused cliches that are casually thrown about in sports with superficial meaning. But in Isaiah’s case, these words flicker on as beacons of light, encouraging and inspiring each of us to be better.
Coach Rodriguez has taught Isaiah so many things about wrestling, but in reality, it is Isaiah who is teaching him about the gift of life and never taking anything for granted.
“The happiest, most positive kid I’ve ever met in my life,” said Rodriguez. “In his eyes, he’s no different than any other kid.”