FERRIER FILES: Dancing his troubles away, the unlikely story of a world champion

FOX 17 News

Not many of us would enter a dance competition. It takes major confidence. That alone makes the story of young Clayton Carmichael even more remarkable.

The stakes are high in the dance contest. Every small mistake counts against you. No. 519 is Clayton Carmichael, a 17-year-old boy from the Dallas area.

The teen traveled all the way from Texas to the Opryland Hotel in Nashville to compete in the world championship of country and western dance. The pressure was on - Clayton was set to perform eight different types of dances.

But, he's good, real good. He has qualities that set competitive dancers apart.

“That smile and that personality and his drive," instructor Catherine Picard commented. "He does anything I ask every time."

Picard is his partner for the entire competition and has been coaching Clayton for two years.

She never expected to be at the international contest with him.

After all, Clayton was born with problems, a list of problems.

“He was almost two before he ever started walking, and they finally told me he had cerebral palsy, autism, scoliosis, he had one leg an inch and a half shorter than the other one,” said his mom Elizabeth Wilson.

10 years of therapy yielded unsatisfactory results. Desperate, his mom signed him up for a dance class.

“I think when he gets out there to dance, he feels like nobody judges him," said his mother Elizabeth Wilson. "Although he is actually surrounded by judges, he looks at it as more of a fun thing to do, but it has changed him.”

But it's much more than just physical issues. Clayton's dad was killed in Iraq. Then Clayton's stepdad died of liver cancer.

Yet for some reason, Clayton smiles through it all. Still smiling, never too up, but never down - never.

When his dance coach reminded him that in competitions you should always look happy, his answer ended the conversation.

“He looked at me and he said, 'I can't remember a time when I wasn't happy,' to have that grateful spirit for life,” sighed Coach Picard.

A spirit that set the stage for something so outrageous it even shocked the unflappable Clayton Carmichael. He won. He is the world champion teen newcomer of country and western dance.

FOX 17's Dennis Ferrier asked Clayton, "What's the best thing about being a world champion?"

"That I'm a world champion," laughed Clayton.

Who would have ever guessed Clayton Carmichael would be celebrated for grace? That palsy could be lost in a perfect polka, that he could waltz his way past scoliosis.

Clayton has found his place in life, on the dance floor.

“When he started dance it just changed his life. He just keeps going, and I think dance keeps him going,” Clayton's mom said.

If you're interested in learning more about country and western dancing. Clayton's teacher has more information here.

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