James River wrestler with autism wins region championship

Caleb Shipwash's success on mat inspires others

BUCHANAN, Va. – The James River wrestling team won the Region 2C championship in dominating fashion. One of the contributing factors to the Knights first-place finish was junior Caleb Shipwash.

"He's smiling every day coming in the door. Always happy to be at practice. This is a grueling sport, to have that smile every day is unusual," said James River wrestling coach Bobby Stewart.

In the 170-pound region championship match, Caleb was the underdog and trailed throughout the match. But he managed to turn the tables.

"He was wrestling a more skilled, stronger opponent. The favorite of the tournament at that weight. But I told my coach who was sitting beside me in the seat, I said 'patience,'" said Stewart.

"I knew he could it. But then there was a doubt. 'Oh my gosh, the guy got him.' And sure enough, he surprised us like he always does. Comes up with a last-minute surprise and he did it," said Caleb's mother, Crystal Eubank.

Caleb won the region championship with a pin with one second left on the clock.

"I was shocked, I didn't think I was going to win regions. I was just focused on making it to states," said Caleb.

The victory is a great feat for any athlete. But Caleb isn't just any athlete. Caleb has autism. And developing into a state contending wrestler was more difficult for him  than others. 

"He'll pick up and master two or three moves. The other kids will pick up 10 or 12 moves.But those two or three moves that he masters are kind of unstoppable at times," said Stewart.

Caleb also experienced bullying at a young age. But through sports, has found a support system.

"Years ago, in elementary school, it just didn't seem like Caleb fit in. He was different and people knew that and sort of ignored him some. But the football team, wrestling, soccer, it's a family. Especially the wrestling," said Caleb's father James Eubank.

Caleb received his championship medal and stood tall as an inspiration for not only students with disabilities, but for any underdog who dreams of one day being on top. 

"It was a big accomplishment and I didn't think I was going to get it. But I did," said Caleb.

Caleb is going to be a senior next season and has another shot at getting on the podium. He also has aspirations to wrestle in college.