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He was quite the Dennis

For 18 years, Dennis McDermott was totally and utterly himself.

As his parents, James and Caron McDermott, would say, “He’s quite the Dennis.” That meant a youngster who loved wrestling, the red Power Ranger and his famous three-piece suit.

Dennis McDermott died on Sunday night, July 4, from injuries sustained in an ATV crash.

The Austin High School student had Down syndrome, but that didn’t hold him back from doing whatever he wanted. Early in his life, he got involved with student council at Southgate Elementary and with youth wrestling.

Wrestling quickly became a very important part of Dennis’ life. Looking up to his older brother, Jimmy, who wrestled for AHS through 2007, Dennis pushed himself to get better on the mat.

It wasn’t always easy — because of his Down syndrome, Dennis sometimes struggled with the sport, particularly when he was just starting out. One day, he told his dad about his struggles.

“He hardly ever complained about anything,” James McDermott said. “(But) he said, ‘I can’t win.’”

Never one to give up, Dennis McDermott kept trying. He took his fair share of losses, but he kept pushing himself. During his 10th-grade year, Dennis started practicing and training more — getting “buff,” his mom noted.

That year, the hard work paid off — Dennis pinned an opponent and won a match.

“I never heard him complain again,” James McDermott said. “He just went back to loving wrestling.”

Added his brother, Jimmy: “That was one of his proudest moments.”

The Packers wrestling team rallied around Dennis. Though he was never the standout, Dennis had “one of the biggest hearts out there,” Jimmy McDermott said.

Howie Underwood, a state tournament wrestler who graduated from AHS in June, said Dennis McDermott was a great person to have around the lockerroom.

“Oh man, he was like the backbone of our team,” Underwood said.

Like many others on the roster, Underwood had a special celebration with Dennis. For those two, it was the “Shake-and-Bake” routine made popular in the movie, “Talladega Nights.”

“He was a big part of our team. Everyone loved him,” Underwood said. “It’s a tragic loss. He was a great kid, a great wrestling partner.”

Though he loved the sport, wrestling wasn’t always about what happened on the mat for Dennis. He was never shy, and family and friends said Dennis would often smile and wave to the crowd — particularly if a young female fan was around.

“He was a big ladies man,” Caron McDermott said with a smile.

His friendliness wasn’t limited to the ladies, however. Jimmy McDermott said if there’s one thing he learned from his brother’s life, it was that anyone can befriend anyone else.

“Dennis seemed to have a connection with everyone,” he said.

Dennis McDermott’s tremendous impact on peoples’ lives is already showing in cyberspace. A Facebook page, “RIP Dennis McDermott you will not be forgotten,” had, as of Wednesday afternoon, 813 members. Many of them have already shared memories or stories.

One commenter wrote, “Every time I saw Dennis he put a smile on my face. He was a great kid to be around and I’m going to miss him. My thoughts and prayers go out to the McDermott family.”

Said another, “I always loved to see him come into the classroom with his suit jacket on. Love you Dennis — we can’t believe you are gone.”

And another, “Its not gonna be the same wrestling season without you. Gonna miss you, buddy.”

Clearly, the young man made quite the mark in 18 years. His parents said people were drawn to his zest for life and love for adventure. That same zest and love likely led Dennis to get on the ATV when he wasn’t supposed to and take off. Though his ride ended tragically, Caron McDermott said Dennis likely had a huge smile on his face before he died.

“We really feel, in his last moment, he was probably having an apex moment of his life,” she said.

After the crash, Dennis was airlifted to St. Marys Hospital in Rochester, where he died at around 10 p.m. — right around when many celebrated America’s birthday.

“His spirit went up, right as the fireworks went off,” Jimmy McDermott said.

What: A celebration of the life of Dennis McDermott

When: Sunday, July 11, 1 p.m.

Where: St. Edward’s Corcoran Center, 2001 Second Ave. NW, Austin

View Dennis’ obituary