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Battling through life together

Tribune-Star - 12/24/2017

Dec. 24--Maybe Tres Haskin, a first-year varsity starter as a senior, could have had an outstanding four-year high school wrestling career with a substantial number of wins.

Maybe the 103-pound Terre Haute South High School senior would have grown a little bigger and taller if radiation and chemotherapy treatment for leukemia as a young child hadn't stunted his growth.

Maybe he wouldn't have had to deal with the challenge of learning disabilities that those treatments can also cause.

Maybe, in a perfect world, Haskin would know his biological father and would have had his mother by his side his entire life rather than having her life altered by the disease of addiction.

Maybe Haskin is an inspiration because he doesn't care to play the what-if game.

As Haskin racks up wrestling win after wrestling win -- he'll return from a short Christmas break this week with a 12-2 record -- he's slamming those maybes to the mat.

As Haskin picks up his viola for orchestra practice, those maybes fade and all that matters is everything that's going right.

An official is raising his hand in victory with each "A" that Haskins is eager to show South wrestling coach Gabe Cook on his progress report.

Haskin allows himself a broad smile when asked about his growing relationship with his mother, Deborah West. He's rooting for her success.

"Sometimes I don't like to look at the past. I like to look at what's about to come next. I hope for the best and try not to look back," Tres said.

Grappling with life-threatening disease

Eddie Haskin -- Charles Edward Haskin II -- has been there with "Tres boy" since the beginning. When West became pregnant with Tres, now 18, Eddie believed he was his biological son.

Eddie, 60, was in Terre Haute selling cleaning products. He put an ad in the Tribune-Star for door-to-door sales people, and West was among those he hired. They ended up partying together after work. A few months later, she told Eddie she was pregnant with his child.

Tres' journey first hit a major obstacle when he was 10 months old. After Eddie observed Tres having leg pain and running a fever, he made a trip to the emergency room. Tres was soon after diagnosed with lymphoma.

Eddie spent many nights in the Riley Hospital lot in his motorhome as Tres' diagnosis soon became leukemia, which means the cancer's origin is in the bone marrow. Tres was never in remission for more than 30 or 40 days at a time up until age 7. His memories of being sick are not real vivid.

"I was looking up at the light most of the time. I had a whole bunch of surgery done. I didn't know I was gonna make it," he said.

What stands out to Eddie was Tres' determination to get back to being a normal kid.

"When he was about, 7, he was just out of first grade going into the second, he had been in remission for about 30 days. They pretty much told us they could keep him alive on chemo. He'd puke after chemo and then go to baseball practice," Eddie said.

The doctors suggested a stem-cell transplant that would first require Tres to undergo radiation. Tres' grandmother, Lilly West, was and would remain his legal guardian. She helped Eddie decide how to proceed.

"Me and his grandma said, 'Let's do it,'" Eddie said. "They spent 10 days in radiation. They baked him like toast. They pretty much made him into a veg. They found a match from a woman's umbilical cord and introduced stem cells into his system. He rejected it at first."

That meant steroid treatments and a stay at the Ronald McDonald house, which interrupted a year of school.

"When he finally gets to come home, We had to disinfect the whole house, no plants or animals. Had to dry clean the carpets. Only allowed certain foods. We feed him steamed tilapia, green beans and eventually bananas," Eddie said.

At one point during Tres' battle with leukemia, Eddie learned that Tres was not his biological son.

Eddie had an attorney recommend he have a paternity test administered. It revealed, when Tres was of preschool age, he was not Tres' father.

"We did a paternity test and found out he wasn't my kid but I had already been with him since the day he was born," Eddie said.

He wasn't deterred. Eddie's life, which also involved picking up gigs singing in a band, slowed down. Looking back now, West is glad to see how it has worked out for her son.

"I was taking him to the hospital. I had to have Eddie come in and take over," West said. "It was stressful. I could not handle it. Thank God Eddie came off the road and helped me with taking care of him. Then he took over responsibility because that's what he wanted to do. He wanted to teach him how to be a man."

West is proud to brag about her son's accomplishments.

"I'm so proud of my son. Just beyond belief I'm amazed by his accomplishments since all that happened to him," West said. "He's continued to make progress. I kind of preach to my son on the disease of addiction because it's something I struggled with for a long time. And I still struggle with it. I just want him to always understand the downfalls of partying, drinking will lead you to jails and institutions and eventually death. A lot of the time when my son was growing up and growing through that, I was struggling with the disease of addiction."

Turning to sports

Eddie was a sports fan growing up in Arkansas, and Tres was drawn to it as well, whether it was baseball, basketball or football. He wanted to play them all.

Tres' love for baseball, in particular, picked up steam not long after he became cancer-free.

"We watched 'Bad News Bears.' He started copying the girl with the double windup. He's eight years old and gets to pitch in a game. They tell him he's got three batters. He did so well they left him in the game and he got player of the game and gets the game ball. He decided he was going to be a pitcher," said Eddie, who put together a team of neighborhood kids and took them to Terre Town to compete. "You couldn't hit him. He could throw a screw ball, a slider, a change-up."

That success carried over to the high school level. Tres has pitched for the junior varsity team for the past three seasons.

"He's just a happy-go-lucky kid and just loves being out in the moment and competing," South coach Kyle Kraemer said. "Very coachable. Will do anything you ask him to do. He goes out, and his off-speed stuff gets people off-balance. That's what has helped him have success at that level."

Tres always loved basketball and went out for football too. The smallest guy on the field, Tres would play special teams and a little wide receiver.

"He couldn't really get up off the ground, the equipment was so heavy," Eddie said. "But he was just fearless. He'd play special teams and stuff and just throw his body at people."

That fearless attitude caught the eye of Cook, who was helping out with a middle school football team. Cook suggested Tres come out for his Southside Wrestling Club.

"We're always looking for little guys," Cook said.

Eddie admits he was skeptical of Tres ever having any success in wrestling.

"He kept getting beat over and over and over. He kept coming back. That's kind of the way he's always been. He kept going back and wanting more," Eddie said.

By the time Tres entered high school, he was still only big enough to wrestle in the smallest weight class, 106 pounds. South had a sophomore, Logan Stephenson, who had a successful freshman season. That meant Tres would face an uphill battle to get in the varsity lineup the next couple of years. Stephenson would make deep state tournament runs each year and eventually be an all-state wrestler as a senior, meaning Tres was facing one of the state's top wrestlers on a daily basis in practice for three years.

"It was pretty embarrassing at first," Tres said. "I wanted that spot real bad. At the same time, it helped me. Being with him [in practice] helped me progress my skills and all other things. Someone being in front of me gave me an example of how I should be. ... He was real fast. That speed has helped me. He was real strong. It was preparing me."

Cook said he doesn't always see boys willing to wait it out like Tres did.

"He's in here every morning. He's a great example of stay the course, understand that delayed gratification happens," Cook said. "He's always been a leader. He comes in every morning. He's still an undersized 106 -pounder but he competes very well against the bigger guys. He's learned that he has to outwork guys to beat them."

He's a team captain and a guy that his teammates respect.

"He's a good leader," sophomore wrestler Moses Hamm said. "He drills hard in practice. He's always at morning practice. He has my respect for that."

Tres had a strong offseason, proving to himself he could have a strong senior year ahead.

"I still never assumed he'd be as good as he is. He went undefeated over the summer, and I'm thinking this stuff is starting to pay off," Eddie said. "I started thinking, he might have a chance this year."

Tres started the season with five pins in his first six matches, the sixth being a forfeit victory.

"I don't think he got into the second period in any of those," Cook said. "He's fast and he never quits moving, which is something we preach in our training. You keep your feet moving and continue to score points. He does a real good job of that."

Terre Haute South competes in Conference Indiana, which includes some of the state's elite competition. This week's two-day event at Mooresville will give Tres some hefty challenges.

"Our schedule starts to get tougher from here on out. All the tournaments we go to from here on out are individual tournaments. We see about all the top schools on our schedule," Cook said.

Tres isn't thinking ahead about setting goals. He's got no experience in conference or sectional meets to know how to gauge what he's capable of at this point. But he's gaining confidence.

"I want to wrestle the best. I want to be the best. The only way to be the best is to beat the best," he said.

Haskin said he's stayed focused on what his coach's drills and just works hard.

"One thing is repetition. You do it over and over again. And also doing new things, new experiences and doing those over and over again. Practice. I'm in the weight room every single day with one of my classes. That helps keep me fit," Tres said.

Active body, busy mind

Eddie said his son's ability to learn to deal with his learning disability has benefited from extra curricular activities, sports, music and church.

"I think a lot of it's the sports, it got him more serious about paying attention in class and thinking about a future," Eddie said.

Former Terre Haute resident Scott Harris, who was a preacher at the Southside Church of Christ, also provided support for Tres. Eddie reached out to Harris when they met on the golf course at Rea Park.

"I preached across the street and said, 'You need to come to church,'" Harris said. "Eddie told me 'I've got to get my boy in church.' If I had a dollar for everybody who said 'Yeah, i'll see you on Sunday' and never show up. They came for years," Harris said.

Harris praised Eddie's enthusiasm for keeping Tres busy. He was also happy to have Scott's son, Grant, regularly come read to Tres, testing his comprehension. Scott's wife, Becky Harris, who home-schooled her children, also tutored Tres, using "Hooked on Phonics" or other learning tools to help him.

"There were decisions along the way. Getting him into chess. Turning him on to the viola, things I thought would never last," Harris said. "The wrestling thing was huge. The baseball, Eddie always coached his baseball team. Eddie usually made up his team of all these other kids, paid for all their shoes and gloves. Was just trying to help Tres out as well as these other boys."

Tres has maintained a relationship with the Harris family, visiting them every summer and attending baseball camp and Camp Tahkodah, a summer Christian camp, at Harding University.

Haskin recently took the SAT.

Maybe a college education is in his future.

"I want to go to college and try to make something out of myself," Haskin said. "I don't know yet what I want to do in college but I want to do something, something that will impact my life."


(c)2017 The Tribune-Star (Terre Haute, Ind.)

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