Dartanyon Crockett: More than carrying on

By Traci Hendrix and Jamie M. Blanchard | July 02, 2013, 4 p.m. (ET)
Dartanyon Crockett
Dartanyon Crockett won a bronze medal in judo at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. On July 7, ESPN2 will air a 21 minute documentary on Crockett and his journey to the podium.  

“Walk, run, push, climb. You have to fight your way to the top.”

Those are the words of Dartanyon Crockett, a bronze medalist in Paralympic judo.

If the name sounds familiar, it is likely from the ESPN documentary Carry On, which is based on his inspiring story of overcoming adversity with his best friend Leroy Sutton, who had both his legs amputated but still wrestled in high school.

Crockett, who is legally blind, carried him to the mats.

Sutton provided guidance.

They were the perfect pairing, together defying their disabilities.

But Crockett’s story did not end with the documentary, which corresponded with his last year of high school in Cleveland, Ohio.

Thousands of emails and letters flooded in after the documentary aired. Viewers wanted to know: what is next for Crockett and Sutton?

On July 7, ESPN2 will air a 21 minute follow-up to the Carry On documentary, chronicling where life has taken Crockett and Sutton. The first of four showings will be on Outside the Lines at 9 a.m. ET with a re-air scheduled for 10 a.m. ET on Sportscenter on ESPN2. The piece is slated to air again during the late Sportcenter broadcasts.

Crockett was joined by producer Lisa Fenn at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

She was there to tell the next chapter of Crockett’s life.

But she was there also to support the young man whose life she changed.

“She’s more of a mother figure to me now,” said Crockett, who was born with Leber optic atrophy, a degenerative disease that causes acute vision loss.

He lost his mother when he was only eight. His father struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol, which left Crockett with an unstable home life, although his father is now sober.

Fenn continued to look after Crockett and Sutton, keeping in touch with them regularly to make sure both boys remained on track despite the obstacles of a tough, inner city life.

“She cares about us as people and has really steered us in the right direction,” said Crockett.

As a medalist in London, Crockett was allowed to award one Order of Ikkos medal, a medal all U.S. Olympic and Paralympic medalists give to their most supportive person. He gave it to Fenn.

It was Fenn that put Crockett in the Paralympic Games, he said.

Eddie Liddie, the resident coach for judo at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., was watching Carry On back in 2009. He thought: would this visually impaired high school wrestler be able to excel in judo? (In the Paralympic Games, judo is open only to visually impaired athletes.)

Liddie reached out to Fenn to invite both young men to Colorado Springs.

 “I flew out for a demo, met the team and coaches, had an eye exam and before long moved to Colorado Springs,” Crockett said. “I’ll always have a strong love for wrestling, but judo is my life now.”

Liddie saw the potential even when Crockett could not. It was hard for him to adjust at first from floor grappling in tight uniforms and shoes to judo, where he competed in a heavy uniform with no shoes.

Keep with it, Liddie said.

He did. And the results far surpassed anything that anyone could have imagined.

Crockett made the U.S. Paralympic Judo Team, just a short time after he learned what the Paralympic Movement was. 

With all the interest in Crockett that continued months and months after Carry On, a crew decided to follow him to the 2012 Paralympic Games.

“After seeing my documentary, I realized that I do have a story, a compelling story, that inspires people,” explained Crockett. “When I knew people had seen it and had an impact on them, it gave me courage to follow my dreams.”

For Crockett, London was an incredible adventure, one of many in a life changed by a few moments on film.

He went there to compete but he acquired friends all throughout the town. In shops and the tube, they promised Crockett they would be there to cheer him on. It was reassuring for Crockett, who had only Fenn and his coaches and teammates to support him.

“My sister visited when my dad couldn’t make it out, and I was really missing all my friends and family,” he said. “Right before my match, someone came up behind me. I couldn’t have been happier to see Leroy there to support me. I had no idea!”

With his friend in the stands, Crockett came away wearing a bronze medal.

The last push of encouragement paid off.

“It was an absolute dream,” Crockett said. “There were so many emotions going on in my mind and I couldn’t believe it happened until after the fact. I never would have thought that going to my cousin’s wrestling practices to bother him when I was a kid would lead to this.”

Crockett has made Colorado Springs his home. His best pal, Sutton, is going to college for video game design. But inspired by his best friend, Sutton says he plans to train for the Paralympic Games in powerlifting once he receives his degree.

“I’m glad I can inspire people, it also helps my own drive to go for gold in Rio,” said Crockett.

With four years until then, Crockett relishes in the daily challenge of being better than before.

He once saw his life as “everyday and normal”, but now he knows his extraordinary ability. And he wants people to recognize that like him, they are able to overcome the odds.

 “The only obstacle is yourself, and nothing can stop you if you are humble about your disability and always continue to keep moving forward,” he said.

With all the inspirational Paralympic athletes surrounding and training with him on a daily basis, Crockett knows not to take anything for granted. He has set new goals, is focused on the new quad and has set the sky as the limit for himself.

“Life isn't fair or easy for anyone. You just have to know there is always someone who has it worse and to never stop pushing for the absolute greatest version of yourself.”