February 14-21, 2010

By Eric Butler
USATourneyTime

In the first month of 2010, Andrew Bird followed through with a decision to change his name. It was something he had been thinking about doing for a long, long time.

After having his biological father’s last name for his entire young life, the Moriarty High School senior took on the surname of his stepfather Matthew Bird.

It’s not generally the sort of thing that high school boys tend to do.

But, in reality, Andrew Bird has been doing things his own way since he was born.

In an Albuquerque hospital 18 years before, in a moment that his mother said turned her hair white, Andrew emerged into the world without hands or feet.

“I actually watched on a video while he was being born,” Germaine Bird said. “It shocked me so bad.”

Andrew Bird, however, has adapted extraordinarily well to his disadvantage. In fact, the Moriarty wrestler has shown time and time again that his condition might only be a perceived disadvantage.

Bird had a 15-9 regular season record and opponents on the mat have been introduced to how strong and agile the 130-pound wrestler really is – even without hands to grip and feet to plant.

“He’s got this thing I call his Alligator Death Roll,” Matthew Bird said. “When someone gets him down on the mat, he can roll out of that. He gets pinned very seldom; I can count on one hand how many times that’s happened.

“Sure, he’s been beaten on points,” he added. “But if he gets pinned, he’s very angry. That’s what he strives for – that’s his goal.”

Moriarty coach Dennis Friedland believes that Bird actually has a slight advantage, at least on a temporary basis, to offset his handicap.

“He’s a pretty good wrestler. He’s got great hip control and balance; he happens to be in a pretty tough weight class,” said Friedland, who notes that most of Bird’s victories actually come through a pin.

“When you wrestle him every day, you can figure him out. But a lot of it is controlling wrists and he doesn’t have any wrists, so guys who haven’t wrestled him before have more trouble,” Friedland added. “He’s becoming known though. When he wrestles, everybody seems to watch.”

Bird, then known as Andrew Foster in seventh grade, was introduced to wrestling when Matthew Bird urged him to try the sport. Bird reasoned that his adopted son was more than capable athletically and he wanted Andrew to try something in a “one-on-one type of sport, one where there wasn’t any discrimination.”

“I did a lot better than I thought I was going to be able to do when I started,” Andrew Bird recalled. “Some of the wrestling moves, I had to find different ways of doing it.”

Anyone with doubts that Bird is physically able to do almost anything, according to family and friends, should be with him on a daily basis.

Friedland said that Andrew, gripping writing utensils with both arms, is “an amazing artist” with his stencil drawings. Bird also can type at around 40 words per minute, and can throw a tight spiral on a football up to 50 yards.

“I don’t know, it’s all shoulder muscle I guess,” Andrew Bird said modestly. “I found I can kick it pretty well too.”

Back when Andrew was born, Germaine was already a mom. Her two previous children (son Michael and daughter Lorena), however, were without any physical irregularities of the sort Andrew would have.

Though Andrew’s entrance came with considerable shock to his mother, soon she would discover that her son would find ways to cope – even without all the body parts others take for granted.

“I was doing something in the kitchen and he was only a few weeks old. He was on the floor and his bottle was on the floor too, but he couldn’t reach it,” Germaine Bird said. “Then he started to cry because he was hungry, but I couldn’t leave what I was doing to get it for him.

“That’s when he rolled over to the bottle and picked it up himself,” she remembered. “At that moment, I knew he would be okay.”

Around Moriarty High, during his senior year, Bird’s classmates have grown used to his condition – and his ability to overcome it.

Some old habits die hard though.

“I’ll be walking around and people will say, ‘Hey, Foster,'” Andrew Bird said. “I’ll have to correct them and say, ‘No, now it’s Bird.'”

The man Andrew has known since he was four, and always called dad, is grateful for the gesture.

“That means everything to me,” Matthew Bird said. “That’s real special that he would think of doing that.”

    

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