WARREN, Mich. - A De La Salle High School senior never looks at his disability as holding him back from life's opportunities, instead he attributes many of his successes to it.
Jesus Villa, 18, was born in the Dominican Republic without tibia bones in both of his legs. At age two, he was brought to Michigan by the Healing for Children Organization to receive medical treatment.
He was placed in the care of a host family, Marge and Jim Badowski.
"Originally they thought it was just cleft foot and would just be surgery and recovery time and that be it, but once I got here they realized it was more severe," said Villa.
The decision was made to amputate both of Villa's legs. While the plan was to stay with the Badowskis for a few months while he recovered, that plan soon changed.
Villa's birth mother made the difficult choice to leave her son in the United States so he would have a better chance at a better life.
"I think it was probably tough for her to just kind of give her son up to random people at the time, but she is glad she did," said Villa. "She thought that I would have more opportunity here."
Opportunity is exactly what Villa has experienced. That opportunity often encouraged by the Badowskis whom Villa calls mom and dad.
"I don't think any other family would given me the opportunities they have," said Villa.
"They treat me like their own son and it's awesome. They spend time with me and my practices, go to games. They're always supportive. They do what they can to make sure I succeed in life and sports," said Villa.
Villa recalls Marge Badowski pushing him to give wheelchair basketball a try when he was in the first grade. At the time, he wanted no part of it.
"She forced me to practice and I was crying and I was like, 'I don't want to do this, can we just go home?' And she told me you have to try it and if you don't like it, then fine, you tried it. If you enjoy it, you can join the team," said Villa.
Villa fell in love with wheelchair basketball and is excelling at it, as a player on the Detroit Diehards, he just made the first cut for the 2016 Paralympic team.
He will continue to play wheelchair basketball at the college level, having already earned a full athletic scholarship to the University of Illinois.
Villa also plays sled hockey.
Then this year he decided to take up wrestling. It was a sport coach Dennis Parks encouraged him to try, he thought Villa would excel because of his upper body strength.
"I've been on him for four years and trying to get him out for wrestling because i knew what an advantage he could have on the mat," said Villa's wrestling coach Dennis Parks.
Villa quickly started liking the sport.
"After a couple matches and winning a couple times, I was like 'Hey I like, I am going to stick with it for the year,'" said Villa.
Parks said Villa has changed the team a lot, bringing more spirit to it.
"There is not a challenge that he can't take on," said Parks.
"No one has been like Jesus. He has changed our team a lot," said Parks. "He just brings, you know, a lot of light to the team."
Villa also brings a lot of pins and wins to the team. Wednesday, he helped the team with the 2013 Team District Championship for the first time.
Villa wants others with disabilities to realize that it is important to do something you love, set goals and then try to get there.
"It's a great feeling knowing no matter what your body type is, (there is) still opportunities out there for you to go to school do things you love," said Villa.
The high school senior said if he had a choice he wouldn't change anything about his life, and neither would his biological mother.
"She is happy and proud how things turned out," said Villa. "I thought about it a couple times and realized if I didn't have a disability I would still be in the Dominican Republic, which means I wouldn't have all the opportunities and chances I have here, and it's a great trade off I think."
Villa competes Saturday in the individual wrestling district meet. He finds out in June if he will make the next round of cuts for the 2016 Paralympic team.
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