You reach out to shake his hand, and Alex Campos-Chambers doesn’t hesitate. But the Sacramento City College sophomore offers his left hand because he has no right.
Born with a right arm that ends at the wrist, Campos-Chambers never let five fewer fingers prevent him from fitting in, from being one of the boys who climbed trees or scaled a fence to fetch a wayward ball. Or from competing on larger stages. Campos-Chambers started at defensive tackle for Chico High School. But his real passion was wrestling, which is taxing enough with two hands. But one? In a sport heavy on holding, grabbing and pushing off?
Campos-Chambers found a way because he refuses to be burdened by limits. He capped his two-year community college tour Saturday night in the winner’s circle at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, his right arm raised by the referee. Campos-Chambers won the state 174-pound title and earned Most Outstanding Wrestler honors as Sac City won state team honors for the first time since 1996.
And that one-hand handicap? Hardly. Campos-Chambers earned a pin in the final match to set a state career mark of 52. His 32 pins this season eclipsed the school record set by John Ming in 1970.
Inspirational? Remarkable? A bit of both? His teammates and coaches say so, but Campos-Chambers insists he is no more special than his teammates. He said his fellow state champions – Taylor Hodel (157 pounds), Desi Rios (165) and Kenny Steers (184) – are every bit his equal.
“I don’t look at myself as an inspiration, but when I won the state championship, I had so many people congratulating me, people I didn’t know, and then it was getting to me that maybe I was an inspiration, and that makes me proud,” Campos-Chambers said. “Then to get the Outstanding Wrestler award, that was a little emotional. It all started to hit me what I’ve done and what it all means.”
Campos-Chambers said he never wanted any pity for his handicap. In the weight room, he used a strap-harness to help lift weights in his quest to be in top shape and blend in with his teammates working out next to him.
“Not having that hand, it’s like a minor setback, but you work out the kinks, figure it out and never settle,” Campos-Chambers said. “I’ve always had a no-excuses type of mentality. But I could find excuses if I wanted to.”
And sometimes, amid laughter because he can’t keep a poker face, he’ll pull the excuse card.
“If I’m running late, a coach will say, ‘Hurry up and tie your shoes!’ ” Campos-Chambers said. “I’ll go, ‘Dude, you know how hard it is to tie shoes with one hand?’ But I don’t scapegoat. I’ll just joke about it.”
Campos-Chambers paused and continued: “When I first met the guys here, it was different. They don’t know what I’m about, and it’s awkward. But I don’t mind if they want to talk about my hand, if they’re curious. I want them to know about it instead of staring. They’re my teammates, and they have a right to know.”
Panthers coach David Pacheco said his star serves as a powerful motivator.
“He’s amazing,” said Pacheco, in his 31st season at Sac City. “I take it for granted. A few weeks ago, Alex had his shoes in his hands, and I just asked him, ‘How do you tie your shoes?’ and he says, ‘Just like you, coach.’ ... He showed me. He’s always adjusted. Just great to see.”
Campos-Chambers has received considerable recruiting interest from four-year programs. He wants to further his wrestling career, major in business or sociology and inspire his pre-teen siblings, brother Ramon and sister Arie.
“They don’t really love going to school except to be with their friends, but they need to go to be good students,” Campos-Chambers said. “I have to set the bar. I have to lead by example. I don’t want to be someone who fell short as a student, or in anything I do, and let them think that being average is OK.”