`Miracle' baby takes on life -- and wins

March 08, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

On Jan. 14, his late father's birthday, Anthony Julio Lester learned he had been accepted to the U.S. Military Academy. When he reports in June, two days before his 18th birthday, Anthony will be continuing a family tradition.

"The military's always been in my family," Anthony said. "I've always wanted to serve."

His dad, Nicholas, was a Navy man. His mom, Zoila, was a nurse at a Peruvian air force hospital and immigrated to the United States in September 1979. She met her future husband on a California-bound airplane on Christmas Eve the next year.

Anthony has two older brothers, Nicholas and Stephen. Zoila Lester calls Anthony her "miracle baby" because he almost didn't arrive at all and survived a frightening accident once he got here.

Zoila Lester said she was involved in three car accidents when she was pregnant with Anthony. The last occurred in Beacon, N.Y., where the Lesters were living in 1988.

"I was in pain, and half my body was paralyzed," Zoila Lester said. "I couldn't move my legs, [and] since I was six months' pregnant, the doctors did not want to give me more medication for the pain due to the fact that it would affect the baby."

You may or may not believe in the power of prayer, but Zoila Lester surely does. After she was admitted to Saint Francis Hospital in Beacon, she received a visit from a nun. The two prayed together.

"The next day," Zoila Lester said, "the intensive pain that I had was less, and I noticed that I could move my feet and my legs." She left the hospital and delivered her third son three months later.

When Anthony was 2, he was struck by a car. That left him with broken ribs and a broken hip that required pins. Anthony Julio Lester might or might not have been a "miracle child," but he was sure as heck a tough one.

He still is. About two years after his father died in 2000, Anthony took up the sports his father played in high school: football and wrestling. His dad was a New York state wrestling champion. Last weekend, Anthony tried to become a Maryland state 4A/3A wrestling champion in one of the toughest weight classes around -- 215 pounds.

Last year, Patterson's Deshawn Barrett devastated this weight class. Even without a Barrett, the 2006 crop of 215-pounders was still pretty awesome.

Anthony's quest for a championship began in late February at Broadneck High School, site of the 4A/3A east regional tournament. I arrived shortly before he was to wrestle Old Mill's Jon Sillaman in a consolation semifinal match.

Anthony recalled later that his nervousness before that match measured about an eight on a scale of one to 10.

So the jogging he did before the bout was as much to calm himself down as to warm himself up. Anthony had lost his first match by fall to Thomas Mulligan of Broadneck. Then the C. Milton Wright senior had come back to edge South River's Pat Lapaglia in a first-round consolation match. Sillaman was Anthony's next opponent. Beating him would put Anthony in the consolation finals and assure him a spot in the state tournament the next weekend.

When the whistle blew for his match with Sillaman, Anthony circled to his left. The two tied up and Anthony tried to thrust his arms under Sillaman's armpits. The maneuver is called a "double-underhook" in wrestling. After locking in his double-underhook, Anthony tried an unsuccessful throw near the edge of the mat.

That same throw worked early in the second period. Anthony had Sillaman on his back. At exactly three minutes and 26 seconds into the match, Anthony had won by a fall. He hugged his coach in celebration. Anthony Julio Lester, the youngest son of Nicholas and Zoila Lester, was going to the state tournament at Cole Field House.

One week later, Anthony flattened City College's Gregory Cross in a little over a minute to win his first match in the state tournament. Then he lost by one point to Thomas Fitzpatrick of La Plata High School in Charles County. That bumped Anthony down to the consolation bracket again, where he won two matches before losing in the consolation semifinals. He lost another tough match to Fitzpatrick in the battle for fifth place.

The miracle baby had survived another arduous test, placing in the top six of a weight class where 12 of the 16 competitors had won 20 or more matches. But despite his success in wrestling, Anthony -- who did double duty as an offensive and defensive lineman in football -- isn't sure which sport he will play at West Point.

"I'm undecided right now," Anthony said.

It's the indecision born of so much talent being placed in one body. Anthony isn't sure whether he'll focus on mechanical or civil engineering at West Point, either. That's bound to happen when your grade-point average is 3.88, when your class rank is 32 (out of 422), when you're a member of the National Honor Society and when the governor of your state recognizes you as a distinguished scholar.

But don't you kind of get the feeling that Zoila Lester won't be too displeased with whatever decision her "miracle baby" makes?

greg.kane@baltsun.com

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