Wrestling can be a brutal sport. It pushes you to mental and physical exhaustion, and there are bouts when you are simply overmatched. When a guy has a forearm dug into your throat and it feels like he might just snap your knee in half as he’s got you staring up at the ceiling tiles going for the pin.

In moments like that, it would be easy to give up. To throw in the towel. Take the pin, tip your cap and go get ’em next time. Or just quit the sport altogether. Surely there are more fun ways for teenagers to spend their time than grappling on a mat all afternoon after a full load of course work in the classroom.

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Absegami junior Ray Weed will never give up.

He’ll never give in to the pain, or the exhaustion. The mental anguish that comes from pushing his body to the limit all year long as one of South Jersey’s top athletes in football and wrestling.

Weed has all the motivation he’ll ever need every night when he walks in the door of his Galloway home. The scuffs on the frame of the front door, and the ramp leading up to it, tell the story. Those marks come from Weed’s brother, Anthony Marquez, trying to maneuver his wheelchair in and out of the front door. This should be the prime of Anthony’s life — about to turn 21 years old on April 6.

But his life didn’t turn out the way he, or anyone else, could have expected. Anthony was an active kid and competitive cheerleader during his high school days at Egg Harbor Township, but in November of 2016, when he was just 16 years old, Anthony suffered an injury that would change his life forever. He was at a trampoline park with friends on a Friday night when, after going airborne, he noticed a young girl beneath him and tried to alter his flight path so that he wouldn’t land on her. Instead, he landed awkwardly and broke his neck — the C4 and C5 vertebrae, specifically, and was left paralyzed from the chest down.

“I got hurt at a trampoline park. A little girl ran under me and I saw her and tried to push her out of the way while I was in the air, but when I landed, I landed wrong and broke my neck. It was a pretty crazy day,” Anthony said. “Right away, I knew. I was laying there and I couldn’t feel my legs. I could still feel my arms, so I grabbed my best friend, who I was there with, and told her she had to go get help. She thought I was joking because I used to play around in cheer practice all the time and act like

I was hurt. She thought I was playing around but I was like, ‘no, you really have to go get help.’ And they took me to Cooper Hospital.

“I was more worried about keeping everyone calm. I knew I would be able to handle all the emotions of that crazy day and crazy night, so I was just trying to make sure everyone else wasn’t panicking. The second it happened, I knew not to move my neck. I started singing a song to try to get my mind off of it so I wouldn’t panic. That’s the first thing I thought to do to get my mind off the situation,” he continued. “I am a diagnosed C-4/C-5 quadriplegic, so my spinal cord is completely severed. When I first got hurt, I didn’t know what any of that meant. I wasn’t even thinking about whether I would walk again at that time. I didn’t know what the extent of the injury was. I knew I couldn’t move right then and there, but I didn’t know it was going to be forever. I didn’t know anything, and my mom and everybody else had the same thoughts — they didn’t realize how serious it was.”

Ray was in middle school at the time, just hanging out at home with his younger sister, Savannah. When he first heard the news, he didn’t think it was as serious as it turned out to be.

“Initially, I was playing Madden in my room, just chilling out on a Friday night,” Ray said. “My little sister ran into my room and said, ‘get yourself together, we have to go to the hospital. I think Anthony broke his neck.’ In the hospital, I didn’t think it was that serious, me being 13 years old. I thought he was going to be fine but as you go through the process, more and more you realize there was something seriously wrong and he might not be able to walk again. The reality starts hitting you and it starts to become more real.”

The past five years have shaped Ray in a way that he could not have predicted back in middle school. Having a brother in a wheelchair has forced Ray to grow up in a hurry and become much more mature than the average high school boy. He has to help his brother get dressed, do his hair, brush his teeth — all those little daily tasks that most of us take for granted. If Anthony gets too hot or too cold in his bed at night, it’s Ray he calls on the phone in the next room over to come help him.

“He physically helps a lot. I just started traveling with a caretaker, but until now when I’ve wanted to travel, (Ray) has been the caretaker,” Anthony said. “He does everything, from transferring me into bed when I need to go to bed, putting on a catheter; he helps me get up, get dressed, brush my teeth, do my hair — he does all of that. Sometimes I’ll get too hot or too cold and it will be three in the morning, and I’ll call him (from the next room over) and he’ll get up and do whatever I ask before going back to bed.”

“Being 13 years old and knowing your brother can’t walk — it teaches you how to grow up pretty quickly,” Ray added. “In a way, I believe everything happens for a reason. This has shaped him into who he is today and it’s shaped me into who I am today. It’s been a big part of our lives, but it’s also been a big motivation. He never knew the last time he was going to go to a cheer practice. So every football practice, every wrestling practice, every match or football game — this could be your last snap or your last match, so go out there and go as hard as you can. And me having four surgeries so far in high school, that’s been my motivation.”

Ray Weed became a household name almost as soon as he started at Absegami, as he became the Braves’ starting quarterback as a freshman. In three seasons he’s thrown for nearly 2,000 yards and 22 touchdowns, and as a freshman 160-pound wrestler he won a district title and advanced through regions to Boardwalk Hall and the NJSIAA state championships. He missed last year due to an injury, one of four surgeries he’s had to endure throughout his high school career. But no matter how many surgeries it takes, Ray will do it because he knows his athletic career won’t last forever, and he wants to keep seeing the joy on his brother’s face when he performs on the field or on the mat.

“I feel like I want to do the best I can in every sport so that, in a way, he can live through me. He went to the regional tournament (two years ago) and he was one of the first people I walked up to after I won my semifinal match over the No. 1 seed to go to the finals. He’s been a motivation for me, to have him live through me and have him find happiness in sports through me. That’s a good feeling after a win,” Ray said. “When he was initially put into therapy the one thing he wanted was for me to play this song called ‘All-Time Low’ (by Jon Bellion) for him because it was a song he listened to all the time before he got hurt. So now before football games, or when I’m on deck in wrestling, that’s one of the last songs I put on for some extra motivation so I can focus on the purpose of what I’m doing, and what I’m doing it for. It gives me extra motivation. My parents spent tons of money on hospital bills so if I can go out there and get a football or wrestling scholarship and go to college for free so they don’t have to stress about anything is definitely a motivation.

“I think our relationship has grown a lot and gotten a lot stronger throughout this whole process. We were close (before) but I was also that 13-year-old brother to a high school kid. But during everything that has gone on he’s been home a lot — and I’m not a kid who goes out a lot — so we’ve gotten to spend a lot of time together and we realize we’re lucky enough to be in each other’s lives,” he continued. “He doesn’t give up, so I try to put that toward everything I do. That’s how I try to live my life — you never know what’s going to happen, so keep pushing. Just do everything like it’s the last time you’re going to do it.”

Anthony knows how much Ray does for him on a daily basis, and that’s why he’s adamant about telling his younger brother to go out with his friends, enjoy his high school days and don’t worry about his brother in a wheel chair.

“If he wants to go hang out with his friends, go do it — whatever he gets himself into, my parents might want him to stay home and be with the family but I reel them in and say, ‘you never know if this is going to be his last time being able to do that. Let him do whatever he wants to do.’ He’s a great kid, a great athlete and a great brother. He deserves to do things he wants to do. I know he doesn’t have to do all the things he does for me, but he does them. So, I feel like he should take a break sometimes and go do what he wants. I always remind my parents about that when they get on him, that he does do a lot for me,” Anthony said. “Sometimes I feel like a burden. I hate asking for help, and that’s how I was before I got hurt. But they help me out of love, and I would have done the same if the situation was switched around. I think about (how things would have been different if I didn’t go to the trampoline park that day), but I try not to think about it too much. I like to keep myself busy. The way I look at things is it could be a whole lot worse. I’m happy to be alive. A lot of people wonder why I’m so good about everything, and it’s because I get the opportunity to see Ray wrestle and Savvy, my little sister, will be going to the cheerleading world championships this year, so I’ll be able to watch that. Stuff like that is what I live for.”

Anthony has a remarkably positive attitude for someone who has been through so much and still faces limitations every day in terms of the things he can do. But his drive and determination aren’t limited. He’s in the process of building his own house in Hammonton and has a budding career as a photographer, as phone technology allows him to control all aspects of a camera from his wheelchair. He also stays busy with motivational speeches at various high schools and hospitals throughout South Jersey.

“Sometimes in life your initial plan might not be your final plan. You might be going straight and then have to take a right, but you really just have to adapt and make the most of it. That’s why I have the word ‘adaptability’ tattooed on my arm — because that’s what you have to do. Sometimes in life, things don’t go as planned. You might run into a situation where you’re paralyzed from the chest down and you have to figure it out and overcome that situation. That’s what I try to tell people,” Anthony said. “The thing I love right now is just watching (Ray and Savannah) grow into adults. He’ll be going to college and I can’t wait for that, and seeing him succeed in sports has been amazing. That’s what I’m looking forward to now, and the same thing with my sister. She’s younger, but I’m sure she’ll grow into a phenomenal person — that’s that I’m waiting for now. That’s what I’m excited for.”

Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays

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