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Dane Vulcan, top, demonstrates a wrestling move on Kooper Hval for Jack Skierka, right, during a Gonzaga Prep wresting practice. (Jesse Tinsley)

Inspirational coach

Gonzaga Prep’s Vulcan overcame Poland’s Syndrome to wrestle

Wrestling, contends Dane Vulcan, is more difficult to master than other sports. Imagine, then, him doing so despite essentially being able to use but one half of his upper body.

The Spokane occupational therapist and Gonzaga Prep assistant coach didn’t let Poland’s Syndrome, that left him without pectoral muscles and a partially developed arm on his left side, deter him from the sport.

“Basically I have a forearm but no hand,” Vulcan explained.

Such an obstacle might discourage a lesser person. But he not only competed at tiny Florence, Mont. high school but ultimately wrestled at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.

Via the grapevine from a friend of Bullpups head coach Danny Pearson, Vulcan heard that the young coach needed an assistant and signed on.

“Being around wresting, I was trying to find a place to roll around,” Vulcan said.

Today Pearson and his head assistant are laying building blocks in an attempt to resurrect a program that has done little since its 4A state title in 1999, with Pearson contributing, and a second-place finish in 2002, under current Mead coach Phil McLean.

“Dane has been indispensable and tremendously inspirational,” Pearson said.

Poland’s Syndrome is not considered congenital, Vulcan said, but likely a product of fetal development – perhaps from a thoracic artery too narrow to provide sufficient blood to that portion of the body.

The disability at first made acceptance among elementary school peers difficult.

“Those were some of the hardest years for me,” he said. “I guess I (later) started not caring what people thought about me.”

He took up wrestling as a freshman, after the sport that had fallen victim for a time to Title IX concerns in Florence and was resurrected due to the advocacy of his dad, who also happened to be the coach.

Vulcan competed at four different weights beginning at 145 pounds and ending with a state appearance as a senior at 189.

“My forearm was long enough to hook with it and do certain things,” he said. “Obviously you’re not as effective as having a hand with five fingers, but it was useful in its way. I had to learn to leg ride and from my feet I had to be really conscious of position. You can’t defend the left side of the body as well.”

He arrived at Concordia to major in biology with no intent to wrestle. But the desire to someday coach lured him into the wrestling room where he ended up competing at 184 pounds and said he had surprising success before injuries took their toll his junior and senior seasons.

“I fell in love with the sport more in college,” Vulcan said. “I think it was about me trying to be better at the end of every day than I was at the beginning. I wanted to learn as much as I could.”

After graduating he earned his masters in occupational therapy at Eastern Washington and works at St. Luke’s Rehabilitation Center.

He also found his way back to wrestling and with Pearson the two have set about raising Lazarus.

It began with a three-week clinic for Parochial school youngsters. They raised money to purchase three mats and now have four locations for future Prep wrestlers. Though still a work in progress, brighter days are ahead.

“We are deeper than we ever have been in my tenure,” Pearson said, “and we have the best freshman class we have had since I have been here.”

Wrestling is supported by its own culture.

“If a football coach has kids who haven’t played football, they still know how to run, throw and catch a ball,” Vulcan explained. “We have so many kids who haven’t been exposed directly to wrestling before. For kids who have never wrestled before, it’s foreign and unlike other sports.”

Having athletes with no prior experience forced to practice against each other didn’t help. But the coaches say having a competitive program is possible.

“We can have success here,” said Vulcan who learned that you can accomplish almost anything despite the odds. “It’s going to take time, but I don’t doubt (we) will get there.”