“I was too small, too overweight, too weak, too slow. Nothing about my athleticism was good enough for him,” recalled Wooten, now a senior at Lone Oak High School.
Rather than throw in the towel, Wooten decided to push himself even harder. Although he couldn’t change his height, Wooten knew he had the power to become the athlete his team needed.
“I just worked harder than everyone else in the weight room for the next three years,” Wooten said. “I already knew that I loved football, and I wasn’t going to let anything get in my way.”
Wooten now serves as captain of the high school’s varsity football team. He also earned first place in his weight and age division at the Natural Athlete Strength Association High School Nationals Competition this year.
Wooten said the experience taught him that no matter how unlikely it may seem, success is possible for those with enough tenacity.
“The only person or thing that’s getting in the way of your goals is you,” he said.
Steven Wooten, son of Craig and Belinda Wooten of Paducah, is the Mid-Continent University Teen of the Week. Each Monday, the Sun features a different MCU Teen of the Week selected from nominees who guidance counselors throughout western Kentucky and southern Illinois submit to the Sun. Mid-Continent University will provide each Teen of the Week with a $2,500 annual scholarship to its university, which is renewable for four years. In the spring, a Teen of the Year will be chosen from the weekly winners. The Teen of the Year is eligible for a full four-year scholarship to Mid-Continent University or a cash award of $2,500, paid through the Paducah Sun, if the student selects another college to attend.
Wooten doesn’t confine his determination to the weight room. The honors student has proven himself just as willing to tackle academic challenges.
He called his acceptance into the Governor’s Scholar Program at Bellarmine University in Louisville one of the greatest honors he’s received. He described the program, during which he studied health care, as the best five weeks of his life.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be in a situation ... where I get to be around that many amazing people. It was a huge blessing. It also helped reinforce the fact that I wanted to go into the health care industry,” Wooten said.
Having undergone physical therapy himself, Wooten said he knows all too well how devastating injuries can be for athletes. He hopes to pursue a career in physical therapy to help others recover as quickly as possible.
“I know how big of a deal sports are for me, and I know how important it is for kids,” he said.
Wooten credits his weightlifting coach, Nathan Torian, with inspiring him and teaching him to be gracious when people make mistakes.
“(Torian) could’ve given up on me a long time ago, because I was a terrible weightlifter my freshman year. ... He’s given me a lot of grace,” Wooten said.
But when it comes to his work ethic, Wooten said his parents have influenced him the most. He said his father taught him to work his hardest, because in life, as in weightlifting, whatever you put in is what you get out.
“He didn’t come from a lot, but he’s made a lot with his work ethic. ... And he’s a very godly man. Everything he does, he does it the right way,” Wooten said of his dad.
Father and son volunteer weekly through the Audiovisual Ministry at First Baptist Church of Paducah. Wooten helps set up the stage and does the heavy lifting required to record and broadcast sermons.
While the student has participated in other community service efforts — including mission trips abroad and assistance with flood relief in 2011 — he said his work at the church gives him the greatest satisfaction.
“It’s rewarding to know that because of what I do, anybody who has cable can see the word of God from their house,” Wooten said. “That means a lot, because faith is so very strongly emphasized in my family.”
Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641.