Blind student overcomes big challenges to become valedictorian

BALTIMORE - J.T. Dulany has been pinned down more times than he can remember.

Competing mostly in the 103-pound weight class throughout his four years at Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School in the Baltimore suburb of Essex, the 19-year-old varsity wrestler said it took opponents an average of one minute to press his shoulders to the mat.

"My strategy was to pray to God that they didn't beat me up that bad," Dulany remembered with a laugh.

His joke belies a fighting spirit.

Legally blind since his premature birth, Dulany underwent seven eye surgeries before he was 2. He has a mild form of autism known as Asperger's syndrome and had to face the death of his mother in 2006 to kidney failure.

The challenges have only made Dulany stronger.

With a 4.4 GPA in his senior year and a cumulative 4.19 GPA, Dulany delivered the valedictorian address at his June 1 graduation ceremony.

"I feel like I have to overcompensate by being the best I can in anything and everything I try," said Dulany during an interview with The Catholic Review, Baltimore archdiocesan newspaper, at his high school. "If I had a nickel for every time I was frustrated, I'd be rich. I didn't give up. I never give up."

Throughout his wrestling career, Dulany made use of special rules for people with visual impairments that allow for constant touch with his opponents. He lost every match he fought - except for one in his junior year against an Edgewood High School student that became the stuff of legend at Mount Carmel.

Mike Naunton, Mount Carmel's athletic director, remembered that after the match's first period, Dulany scored a few points. It began to look like the long-suffering wrestler might actually win.

"In the second round, you could just feel people coming into the gym from other places because word was spreading," Naunton said. "In that third period, everyone was just on the edge of their seat."

On a YouTube clip of the match, fans can be heard shouting, "J.T., you can do this!" and "Tonight's the night, J.T.!"

When the referee finally signaled that Dulany was the victor, the student couldn't see the scoreboard. He asked who won, and the official responded, "You did, buddy."

Fans burst into joy, a scene fit for the silver screen.

"We've had bigger crowds for basketball games," Naunton recalled, "but the emotion and the intensity and the loudness on that day was just amazing."

Grant Taylor, a 17-year-old junior and captain of the wrestling team, remembered jumping up and down over his friend's only victory.

"I almost cried because it was just so great," Taylor said.

Dulany's enthusiasm is reflected in everything he does, Taylor said.

"He's the man," Taylor asserted. "At our prom, he's the only one who danced. He was break dancing and everything. He tries his best and puts his heart into everything."

Dulany, whose full name is James Theodore, was recognized as one of the Archdiocese of Baltimore's Distinctive Scholars. He's been active as the treasurer of his school's National Honor Society and a representative in the Student Government Association.

Dulany's father, Sean, said his son is a role model - demonstrating that "regardless of your limitations, if you put your mind to it, you can do it."

Dulany will attend Loyola University Maryland in the fall, majoring in political science with plans of going on to law school. He knows his father is proud of his accomplishments - and his mother is, too.

"I'm pretty sure when you go up to heaven, my mom would be shunned from the angels because she's already bragging so much," Dulany said.

Matysek is on the staff of The Catholic Review, Baltimore archdiocesan newspaper.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970