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The Alternative Sports Hero

Inspirational athletes come in all shapes and sizes. Garrett Holeve won't let Downs Syndrome get in the way of his UFC dreams.

By Mark Gillespie

In Ancient Greece, male athletes were perceived as the embodiment of physical perfection. Their prowess was so admired that artists were inspired to recreate and preserve their beauty in the form of all those buff, chiseled statues that you see in museums all over the world. But the great thinkers of the time, like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, warned against this physical worship. Not that these intellectuals didn’t appreciate the benefits of physical exercise; they just happened to understand that there were more important qualities within every human being that deserved attention.

And they were right. Sport, lest we forget, is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical. Who cares about all that buff stuff when you have heart, smarts, guts and luck on your side? And while we still love our strapping alpha-male sports heroes of the classical mold, we have come to appreciate the talents of those who are different. In the 21st century, the diversity of athletes competing in sports events across the world is a testament to progression and a cause for celebration. The 2012 Paralympics in London were another jaw-dropping reminder of the capabilities of a group of people who, at one point in time, would have been consigned to society’s scrap heap. These inspirational athletes are not classic sports heroes; they’re much more than that.

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The Underdog

One example is a 23-year-old man with Downs Syndrome who is hell-bent on revolutionizing the martial arts world. His name is Garrett Holeve, he lives in Cooper City, Florida and his dream is to become a professional mixed martial artist. Garrett’s unusual ambition, no doubt, will be met with the scorn of some and the horror of others. Does any individual with Downs Syndrome really belong in the brutal world of combat sports? But Garrett is already on the way to proving the doubters wrong. His list of achievements so far are impressive and include establishing himself as a permanent fixture at American Top Team, one of the most respected MMA gyms in the country. He has also rallied a substantial amount of support for his cause including a roster of high profile UFC and ex UFC fighters such as Stephan Bonnar, Dominick Cruz and Pat Barry. Garrett’s most significant achievement however, is the creation of Garrett’s Fight, a charitable organization co-founded with Bonnar to promote and support the inclusion of special needs athletes in the martial arts.

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