THONOTOSASSA – Folsom Elementary School second-grader Lex Strickland has three loves – reading, wrestling and jujitsu.
So it came as no surprise to his parents, Doug and Melody Strickland, when Lex, 7, signed up for the 2013 WrestleMania Reading Challenge held earlier this year.
“Books entertain and inform me, which is what I love,” Lex said.
Having the rare opportunity to select World Wrestling Entertainment Superstar Sheamus as his “reading buddy” and congratulatory penpal upon the completion of each book he read sparked Lex to read all five books in the “Otis” series, plus more than 20 others from the We Give Books website, a free digital initiative created by the Penguin Group and Pearson Foundation.
His reading achievement earned Lex first place among a field of more than 25,000 entrants ages 4 to 11 who participated in the nationwide contest.
It also netted the Temple Terrace resident a recent surprise classroom visit from none other than the 35-year-old Sheamus, a native of Ireland whose wrestling career highlights include being named WWE Champion, U.S. Champion, 2010 King of the Ring, 2012 Royal Rumble match winner and World Heavyweight Champion.
“When I saw it was Sheamus he said, ‘Here’s the No. 1 kid,’” Lex said. “I was so happy.”
Sheamus presented the youngster with a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Brogue Kick,” denoting the wrestler’s signature move, and a cross-shaped medallion similar to the one Sheamus wears to signify his Celtic heritage and represent his Celtic warrior image in the ring.
A pizza-party followed the classroom visit – with Sheamus, Lex, his parents and a few of his school buddies – prior to an assembly of second-grade students who had gathered to offer kudos to the youngster and to be read to by the wrestling guru who lives in Odessa.
The presentation culminated with Sheamus and Lex giving copies of the high acclaimed children’s book “Otis” that the wrestler, in turn, autographed.
Lex’s parents said they’d known for a few months about their son’s achievement and Sheamus’ scheduled visit to the school but vowed to keep it under wraps.
“Lex is a rabid reader,” Doug Strickland said. “For him it’s just another form of entertainment.”
Melody Strickland said the youngster’s entire family, including his older sister who attends King High School, enjoys reading. Like them, Lex reads every chance he gets.
“When I take him to jujitsu he reads the entire way,” said his mom, who described her son as a “really good kid.”
With Lex at his side, Sheamus expressed his own love of reading.
“When I’m traveling I always have a book with me,” he said. “Reading is an important part of my everyday life.”
Folsom Principal Cora-Lynne Wimberly said the day’s happenings presented a valuable lesson to every student who took part in the celebration.
“You can do anything in life if you can read,” she said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected].com.