Wrestler Spotlight

sponsored by Asics and Schuylkill Valley Sports

Written by Bill Rudick; published on February 14, 2020

Andrew Bliss - Lampeter-Strasburg

For some, suffering a season ending injury could lead to self-pity and the dread of a long, difficult rehab and recovery. For Lampeter-Strasburg's Andrew Bliss, it served as motivation and a chance to use his intellect to help others more easily navigate that rehab process.

Early in his freshman year, Bliss suffered the first of several knee injuries, a tear to his lateral meniscus and vastus medialis, just 12 matches into the season.

Photo by Bill Rudick

During the course of his rehab, Bliss was saddled with a number of different braces, none of which worked as well as Bliss thought they should, or could. Then, at one of dozens of medical appointments, Bliss met Dr. Daryl Bodner, and discussed the issues he was having with the braces he'd used. The two began work on solving the problem they found with current knee braces.

"They just didn't seem to move the way a knee does," said Bliss. "And I think the rehab process could be enhanced and maybe accelerated with a better brace."

The answer, they believe, comes in the hinge. Bliss and his mentor put together schematics for a new, non-circular hinge that allowed for more natural movement, and have since gotten a provisional patent for the device, which they plan to license once a working prototype is built and the patent process is complete.

Obviously, Bliss' interest in science played a major factor in the brace project. Bliss also worked with the school to create the STEM Pioneers, the primary STEM team at L-S. The STEM Pioneers are also working with Charles Sandy and ILC Dover, along with Dr. Rob Gillio to develop, with an aim to manufacture, a Mars space suit.

"When I heard that Andrew had gotten a patent for a medical device, I was not even remotely surprised," said L-S principal, and District 1 Wrestling Official, Greg Fantazzi. "He is bright and well-rounded, and just a great kid."

Well-rounded indeed. On top of his busy schedule with athletics and academics, Bliss also plays the saxophone, and is the drum major in the marching band.

"I play in every band we have at the school, from marching band to orchestra," said Bliss. "I probably like playing in the jazz band the best, when it comes to music."

But Bliss is quick to point to wrestling as a catalyst for his success off the mat.

"I just love the competitive nature of the sport, and the individual aspects. Your success is a direct reflection of the work you put in."

"The work ethic and ability to persevere through adversity are two lessons of the many from wrestling that can be applied to any other activity," said Bliss. "Rather than hours on the mat or in the gym, I took that same obsessive nature and applied it to academics and research. No matter what the task is, the wrestler in you never goes away, and it's that mindset that fuels achievement off the mat."

Bliss started wrestling young, and was among the first kids to join the Lancaster Alliance Wrestling Club (LAW) back when they first started a dozen years ago.

"I started in first grade," said Bliss. "I just love the competitive nature of the sport, and the individual aspects. Your success is a direct reflection of the work you put in."

LAW has since become one of the top clubs in the state, and pretty much everyone who has been on the podium at the Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament has been a part of the LAW room at one point or another.

"Andrew is an amazing kid," said LAW founder Will Betancourt, Sr. "He was one of the original LAW members. He and Will (Betancourt, Jr) are the last two from that first year still in high school. He stayed with the club for 10 years before being sidelined."

Knee brace design by Andrew Bliss and Dr. Daryl Bodner

Bliss continued with wrestling through the Lampeter-Strasburg program, and was one of the team's standouts when healthy.

"I coached Andrew for four seasons as his head Mat Club Coach, then two seasons as his head junior high coach before he was superfroshed for the high school team (District 3 allows freshmen to wrestle junior high)," said Kevin Franklin. "I also helped assist at tournaments through his high school years largely since my son Johnny was there."

The Franklins and the Blisses, Andrew and his father, Dr. Brian Bliss, superintendent at Solanco, forged a bond during those years, spending time together at folkstyle tournaments in the winter, and freestyle and Greco in the spring.

"Andrew is one if the hardest workers you will find," said Franklin. The same type of focus and tenacity that he applied on the wrestling mat was the same type of drive that he has applied to all aspects of his life whether that was as a student in the classroom, as a drum major on a Friday night in the fall, as an inventor, or as a competitor on the mat. Besides that Andrew is just simply gifted. He is one of the most intelligent individuals that you will meet, and has a quest for knowledge that is very rare for his age."

Bliss only got to wrestle 12 matches as a freshman, and just two as a sophomore before finally getting to put together a full season as a junior, going 28-11 and winning a Sectional title.

"The best memory had to be winning the team section title at home against Manheim Central," said Bliss. "The gym had never been that full, and for two passionate programs to have it all on the line every match was an atmosphere that cannot be matched."

Unfortunately, the injuries didn't stop piling up, and to date, have required labrum surgeries on both shoulders, plus three separate surgeries on his left knee. As such, his competitive career has most likely seen its end.

"I've started to accept that I need to move on from competition because of so many injuries," said Bliss. "But I am not done with this sport. I would love to get into coaching some day."

Though the brace he's helped design might come too late for him, Bliss has come to grips with that.

"Even though I wish it would have been available to me, I would like to hope it helps others get through recovery faster and better," said Bliss. "That would be a win."

As self-motivated as Bliss is, he is also quick to point to the people who have helped him along the way.

"I wouldn't be anywhere without the support of my parents," said Bliss. "Or all of the coaches along the way. And Lampeter-Strasburg has been amazing for the opportunities they have provided through their STEM programs. And of course Dr. Bodner has been fantastic in teaching me and working with me."