Lisa Fenn produced human-interest features for ESPN for over a decade, but one particular story came into her life and never left. After seeing a newspaper image of two young wrestlers from one of Cleveland’s tougher public high schools, Lisa followed a hunch and flew back to her hometown to meet the boys that very day. What she found caused her spirit both to sink and to soar.
Leroy Sutton, who lost his legs in a childhood train accident, could often be found riding on the back of Dartanyon Crockett, who was legally blind and had no permanent place to call home. Initially drawn together by their handicaps, the boys soon developed a brother-like bond. When one wrestled, the other sat on the edge of the mat, and their cheerful friendship was a source of inspiration throughout the halls of their high school.
As Lisa filmed her feature about this remarkable friendship for ESPN, she grew to understand the suffering Leroy and Dartanyon had endured, and she fought for their trust and their confidence. The three formed a surprising and meaningful connection—and once the television story ended, Lisa realized she couldn’t just walk away.
Though Leroy’s and Dartanyon’s futures were limited by abject poverty, Lisa resolved to give them the chance she knew they deserved. She worked tirelessly to see them through school and athletic pursuits, broken hearts, phantom limbs, and the bewildering obstacles that, at every turn, tested their individual strengths even while strengthening the bonds between them.
More than a story of two underdogs overcoming innumerable hardships, Carry On is a touching tale of an unlikely family forged through barriers of race, class, and disability. It is a powerful memoir about grit, love, hope, and faith—and the courage to carry on, even in the most extraordinary circumstances.
Occasionally, we all think our lives are tough. (It's a virtually every day occurrence for me.) Then we come across a story that shows just how wrong our thinking is.
Enter Leroy, on the wrestling team at his high school. His high school is in a 'rough' area. His family and background would get him labeled 'underprivileged' or 'at risk'. In 2012, the median income for a family of four in the US was $65,000.00. Leroy's family didn't make anywhere near that. Before you think, so, lots of people are in the same boat...let me add the piece de resistance: Leroy's legs were cut off when he was 10 and was run over by a train. (Personally, I'm still blown away that he even survived that!)
Leroy gets from place to place by wheelchair. At some schools, the gym is only accessible by stairs, which presents a problem. Along comes Dartanyon, a fellow wrestler, who offers to carry Leroy on his back up and down the stairs that would otherwise prevent Leroy from participating with his team. Cue the heartstrings, because this story is warming up.
Then an ESPN feature producer (in this case, the author of this book, Lisa Fenn), sees a picture of Leroy and Dartanyon in the paper and decides to take a closer look. As it turns out, Dartanyon is a really good wrestler. He is strong and has powerful moves, and a huge fan in Leroy, who cheers at each match from the side of the mat. After covering the story for some time, Lisa finds out that Dartanyon is legally blind. For the most part, the only ones who know that little tidbit are the ones Dartanyon tells...and he doesn't tell many people.
Just growing up is a struggle. Add to that the loss of one's legs, or one's ability to see, or an unstable home or food environment, or inadequate educational or sports equipment resources ... and you might be able to catch a glimpse at the scope of the challenges Leroy and Dartanyon were facing.
And, as painful as it may be for some people to hear, being black would have to count as a strike against them. There are still far too many areas of this country where this is true. But as much as I'd like to launch into a debate on race and systemic poverty (and someday I may do just that), this is a book review and not a social commentary.
Ms. Fenn does not shy away from such topics and that is commendable. I think I'll always remember the 'turkey lady' story. How some people come in at the holidays with a great meal for hungry families. And they disappear the rest of the year. Not that folks are not appreciative of the meal...they are. But one decent meal a year doesn't help chronic food instability any more than one dose of vitamin c can prevent all manner of disease.
As the story of Dartanyon and Leroy spread, donations came pouring in to enable someone to help make the young men's lives better. But simply throwing money at a problem does not cure it. It is very important, to be sure, but it is also a resource, or a tool to use in bringing about a solution, not the solution in and of itself. You see, their lives did get better, but not because someone knocked on their doors and handed them a big check. They were also teenage boys, not angels. They continued to have problems.
And I wish I could end with 'and they all lived happily ever after'. But I saw a quote from Winston Churchill a few days ago that went something like, "Success is moving from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm." Dartanyon, Leroy and Lisa have certainly done that. They have taken the hands that life has dealt them and have made it work for them.
Carry On is quite possibly (one of) the most heart-warming true life stories I have ever read.
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(Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the author and publishers via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.)