The Washington Post

Avery Henry, born with a form of dwarfism, thrives on Robinson wrestling team

Standing at 4-foot-10 due to a form of dwarfism, Robinson's Avery Henry has overcome bullying to become a winner on the mat for a perennial state contender. Update: An earlier version of this video mistakenly identified a student by name. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

Down at the end of the hall from the front entrance to Robinson Secondary School is “Subschool A.” Tucked away in the split-level locker bay is a cream-colored unit with a dent.

Avery Henry remembers too well how it got there. A small scar on his forehead serves as a reminder of the eighth-grade locker bashing.

The senior wrestler nicknamed “The Hammer” seems like an unlikely victim of bullying. His 310-pound max bench press exceeds the mark all-pro running back Adrian Peterson posted while attending Oklahoma. Henry earned his black belt in taekwondo at age 9.

But little about Henry fits a mold.

Born with hypochondroplasia, a form of short-limbed dwarfism, Henry struggled at times to adjust while growing up. Now 4 feet 10 and a starter at 145 pounds for the top-ranked Rams, Henry has found his niche in high school wrestling and has aspirations for a college career.

Avery Henry , center right, is a starter for the Rams and a difficult wrestler to bring down. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

On Friday, he took third at the Conference 5 meet, and in two weeks, he and his Robinson teammates will vie for a sixth state championship on their home floor.

Fitting in — and then some

Like clockwork, Henry hit the developmental milestones for infants — with one notable exception.

“He didn’t crawl,” Henry’s mother, Linda, said. “He scooted.”

When Avery was 3 months old, Linda and Avery’s father, Scott, a retired Army colonel, suspected an issue and visited a geneticist.

They discovered that while their son’s hypochondroplasia wouldn’t negate his ability to live a normal life, there would be pitfalls.

Aside from causing unusually short stature, hypochondroplasia is associated with learning disabilities. Avery Henry suffers primarily from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and receptive-expressive language disorder.

Struggling to focus and process what others said to or about him didn’t make it easy for Henry growing up.

Several times when Henry was in second grade, he trudged home from Oak View Elementary with smudged glasses. He didn’t tell his parents what had happened, but they eventually pieced it together. At the lunch table, bullies had smeared cheese whiz on the spectacles.

But that same year, Henry picked up wrestling at the club level, and his social life took an upward turn. And when he joined the perennial state power Rams as a freshman, Henry’s identity shifted even more into focus.

“I heard that they were a really good team,” Henry said. “I looked at their boys and saw that they had a lot of state champions over the years.”

During Henry’s years at the Fairfax school, the Rams have brought home two more team titles, one last year and another in 2011.

“Wrestling helped him a lot because we’re kind of a family as a team, and the guys stick together, back each other up,” senior Jack Bass said. “We’re all known at the school for wrestling, so I think that helps him socially.”

Playing to his strengths

When Wade Schalles started working with Henry at EagleHawk Academy in Fairfax two years ago, the two-time NCAA champion didn’t shy away from his message.

“I told Avery when I first met him that ‘I’m going to use the word ‘handicap’ when I look at you,’ ” Schalles recounted. “ ‘But you don’t understand. The handicap is with every kid that you have to wrestle. They have the handicap, not you.’ ”

The point was that a wrestler of any size, frame or build could be successful as long as he took advantage of his body type.

“You don’t put a 5-8, 160-pound guy on the line in football; he’s your free safety,” Schalles said. “In wrestling, if you’re short, you’re really good at leg attacks.”

The first part isn’t exactly true. As a sophomore, Henry played defensive line on the Rams’ junior varsity team. He finished second on the squad in sacks.

But all of Henry’s training, with Schalles at EagleHawk and with Robinson wrestling Coach Brian Hazard, has centered on making the most of his stature. With a limited reach, Henry keeps his hands in his lap, inviting adversaries to come to him.

“It’s really hard to wrestle him like you would a person of my height,” said Westfield wrestler Matt Schlink — whom Henry beat, 4-2, on Jan. 15. “The difference is you can’t get to his legs, because he’s already pretty low.”

By maximizing his strength (Henry squats 400 pounds and leg-presses 690), the senior has gained interest from wrestling programs at Ferrum College in Virginia and NCAA Division I top 20 fixture Edinboro University in Pennsylvania.

Dropping the hammer

On Jan. 29 — senior night at Robinson — Henry paced the blue strip of rubberized floor of the cavernous gym. All of the lights were down, save for four, shining down directly from the center scoreboard and casting hard beams onto the wrestling mat.

There were four matches left before his bout at 145 pounds, but he was already in the zone. Occasionally, Henry would break from his trance to see how a teammate was faring or to change the song on his iPhone.

He listened to Survivor. Arena rock. “Eye of the Tiger.”

“I feel good,” Henry said. “Ready.”

At 7:20 p.m., he shed his wrestling sweatshirt and stripped down to his gray singlet. Avery believed he was going up against long odds in the form of Chantilly senior Walter Carlson, The Post’s No. 3 ranked wrestler at 145.

But Chantilly audibled, flipping Carlson and usual 138-pounder John Shin, in hopes that if Carlson could upset Robinson’s Bass, the Chargers could take both matches.

Not long into the match, it was clear Henry had other plans. He went for a double-leg takedown, eliciting cheers from the Rams’ bench. Shin managed at the last second to break free but not for long. With time ticking down in the first period, Henry employed his favorite move — the cement mixer. With no hesitation, he slipped his arm under Shin’s chin and put him onto his back. In 1 minute 34 seconds, he recorded the pin, bumping his overall record to 17-13. Currently, he’s 19-14.

“I didn’t care who I was going against,” Henry said after the match. “I know I could beat any of them.”

Henry knew he could have crushed his eighth-grade bully, too. He considered it.

But his experience in wrestling has helped him realize that he — and nobody else — is always in control.

“Wrestling helped me to know what the right path is,” Henry said, “to make my own decisions with what life was going to give you.”



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Sleep advice you won't find in baby books
In defense of dads
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
For good coffee, sniff, slurp and spit
How to keep your child safe in the water
How your online data can get hijacked
Play Videos
How to avoid harmful chemicals in school supplies
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
What you need to know about Legionnaires' disease
How to get organized for back to school
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom