O'FALLON, Ill —
When Alex Fulton was in high school, if you didn't find him on the mat, he was probably asleep.
"It’s the only thing I do. I basically woke up, ate, slept and wrestled every day. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," Fulton said.
His passion for the sport started at age five, but really hit his freshman year when he was the only one his grade to make varsity.
"We all pushed each other and did really really well Freshman and Sophomore year," he said.
Fulton collected trophies left and right, including being named Regional Champion in his weight class.
It was about midway through his sophomore year that a pain started growing in his back.
His mom didn't give it much thought at first.
"Ibuprofen, you hope it feels better in a couple days, heat pack, ice pack and it just didn’t get better," said Michele Seibel, Alex's mom.
About midway through his Junior year, the pain got so excruciating the wrestling standout could barely walk.
We asked Alex to rank his pain on a scale of 1 to 10.
"Sometimes, depending on what you did, it could be a really big 11. If you were bending over and did it too fast, it would be to the point where you have to sit down and not move for the rest of the day," he explains.
He finally saw a specialist at St. Louis Children's Hospital.
"And we see this little black line that goes through here. That’s the PARS defect," Dr. Brian Kelly at St. Louis Children's Hospital said pointing to the fracture on an X-ray.
In other words, it was a fracture in part of his vertebrae.
"To see the fracture in his back was nauseating," his mom recalled.
Dr. Kelly essentially gave Alex two options.
"I always present giving up the sport as an option. If it’s really just wrestling that’s bothering him, then stop wrestling and it gets better," said Kelly.
But even when life pinned Alex to the matt, he refused to tap.
"There’s no way I’m going to stop wrestling. It’s just not something I can do. If I lost wrestling, there’s really nothing else that I’m used to doing," Fulton said.
So he chose the other option, a pretty intensive three hour surgery.
"These are little hooks that hook under where that fracture is and then you’re able to stabilize and squeeze them together with some rods," said Dr. Kelly.
The surgery turned out to be the least of his problems. The greatest challenge was keeping Alex still enough to heal.
"You had to sit in your bed, you couldn’t move, you had to have a certain way you got out of bed every morning," Alex said.
Under doctors orders, Alex couldn't wrestle for another six months, but that didn't keep him out of the gym.
"I was still going to every single match, every single tournament, every single practice," he said.
The star athlete turned into a temporary coach until he could finally return to the circle for his senior year.
For the most part, he said he's good as new.
" A little bit of a flexibility difference but other than that, I’ve been able to do everything just fine," said Fulton.
Which is why, he's spending this summer teaching the sport to the next generation.
The hope: to instill in others that same passion.
Fulton will fulfill his lifelong dream this fall, when he'll wrestle on scholarship, for nearby McKendree University.
His mother said she won't miss a single match.