Sweat is rolling down Devin Carter’s face as he prepares to begin the sudden victory round in the championship match of the Midlands Open.
As the referee walks over to begin the period, Devin takes a quick glance at assistant coach Tony Robie, who signals for him to be the aggressor and go for the takedown. The final period of the most important match of Devin’s young wrestling career at Virginia Tech has begun.
Only 24 hours earlier, Devin — the defending ACC champion at 133 pounds — had earned his ticket into the semi-finals of the Midlands tournament and was on his way back to the hotel to get in a quick workout. His father, Jeff Carter, had been having heart pain all day, but chose to dismiss it.
When they arrived at the hotel, however, Jeff was profusely sweating. Devin’s mother, Debbie Carter, a nurse in Christiansburg, knew the signs of a heart attack when she saw them.
“I drove Devin back to the hotel and then drove Jeff to the hospital that was only about 500 yards away,” Debbie said. “When we got him into the hospital, he was having a heart attack. Devin, at that point, still didn’t know what was going on. All he knew (was that) we were going to the hospital.”
The doctors immediately took Devin’s father to the Cardiac-Catheterization Lab to figure out the severity of his heart blockage. But the 49-year-old father of three flat-lined. Doctors used a defibrillator to shock Jeff’s heart and bring him back to life — literally.
At that point, Debbie called her son and informed him of the situation. Tech wrestling head coach Kevin Dresser drove Devin to the hospital to wait for news from the doctor, who eventually told them Jeff had a 100 percent blockage on the right side of his heart. Doctors had placed a stent — a small tube used to improve blood flow and strengthen arteries — in his heart, and he was doing fine.
“We waited for Jeff to come out, and when he came out of the room, the first thing he said to Devin was ‘So how is your weight for tomorrow?’ I said, ‘Oh jeez,’” Debbie said. “Coach Dresser then gave Devin the option of whether he wanted to wrestle the next day. Jeff pretty much said to Devin, ‘You go wrestle. That is what we came here for. You go wrestle.’”
Devin returned to the hotel and tried to sleep before the next morning’s semi-finals match. What was a normal day turned into one of the most frightening times of his life — his father, who began coaching him when he was 4 years old, nearly lost his life.
“It started off being my dad who pushed me and motivated me,” Devin said of his original involvement in wrestling. “My dad was my coach for 10, 11 years. He is one of the main people that contributed to my success as a wrestler.”
The next morning, Devin made weight and won his semi-finals match 17-7. The finals were not until later that night, and he was set to face Iowa’s Tony Ramos, who was ranked third in the nation in the 133-pound weight class. The previous day’s events weighed heavily on the sophomore’s mind.
“(Devin) was probably thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do this for him. I’ve got to do this for me. Let’s make a bad thing good,’” Debbie said. “I’m sure he was thinking, after the fact, ‘This would be great. Dad is going to be thrilled.’”
But Dresser helped Devin stay on point.
“Devin set a goal to win the Midlands. Just because he had Tony Ramos didn’t change his mind, he went there to win that thing,” Dresser said. “Usually when you go to a tournament of that caliber and you go there with that strong of intent to win, you have a chance to win no matter what.”
Debbie attributes her son’s success, on the tournament’s final day, to Dresser.