Zuri Berry: Heart of a champ | TheUnion.com

Zuri Berry: Heart of a champ

Chase Duncan’s got heart. And a tale of battle wounds.

Bear River’s heavyweight wrestler has the steel resolve to turn down any contradictive doctor that’s put a roadblock in the way of his high school wrestling career.

He also has the Pioneer Valley League heavyweight wrestling class on lock and in a couple of days will prove if he’s made the second greatest comeback of his career.

I’ll go as far to say that his ability to wrestle today is nothing short of miraculous and cause for some sort of medical inquiry into the mystique of this young man. He started the school year on the Bruins football team as an offensive lineman before feeling the tinge of his heart beating too hard on more than one occasion. In fact, he was feeling the effects of a double heartbeat due to Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, which expedites the heart rate. It also caused him to black out randomly throughout the day. By the time the Duncans got a whiff of what was up, he said he was blacking out 15 to 20 times in a day.

Within a week of being taken to the doctor, he had open-heart surgery. He never returned to football, instead looking to prepare himself for the wrestling season he wasn’t sure he was going to have.

“This year he’s had more obstacles – that are severe obstacles – to not wrestle,” said Bear River coach Kevin Figueroa. “It’s made him be more focused and appreciate the little things.”

The thing is, Bear River’s big muse was a bit reluctant to return himself. Wrestling has been his favorite sport since he was in the sixth grade back in the Bay Area, so a little heart surgery wasn’t going to stop him from at least trying. His doctors tell him he’s going to have somewhat of a double heartbeat all his life.

“In the back of his mind he’s still thinking, ‘what the hell is going to go on with my heart,’ ” Figueroa said.

He geared up for his last season anyway.

“It’s something I have to live with,” Duncan said. “I still feel it to this day. I felt it yesterday at practice. But coming into this season I was really nervous because I thought I wasn’t going to be able to wrestle.”

Go down Bear River lane and the compliments shower the 6-feet-6-inch 270-pound heavyweight, whose determination to stay on the mat for the Bruins and grapple his way to Sac-Joaquin Section stardom is either really not for his own healthy benefit or really a tale of America’s next great medical miracle.

Duncan is one of the few graceful heavyweights in the area, wrestling only in a fraction of the dual meets his fellow teammates have this season because of the dearth of talent.

They just don’t make ’em as big as Duncan.

But it’s his resolve that empowers him and makes him all the more intrigue-able for me, and hopefully you, in this tug-of-war sport.

Three weeks ago, Duncan got into a car accident in which he totaled his ’96 Dodge truck. Driving in icy conditions, his truck slipped off the road and into a creek. He injured his hip in the crash and wasn’t expected to return for the season. Heck, he wasn’t expected to wrestle ever again from what his coaches said at the time.

It was a critical time for the big guy. He had to figure out how important this wrestling stuff was for him. It wasn’t like the shoulder surgery he had in his freshman year or the other dings he’d received. This one almost disabled him, putting the powerful young man in a limp.

“Honestly, the first talks with his parents the doctors said it was a slim chance,” assistant wrestling coach Robert Nebeker said of his return. “Knowing Chase for four years, he would never give up. That is not an option. The kid loves wrestling more than anybody I’ve ever known.”

It really didn’t take much thought for him. Within two weeks, he was back on the mat and putting a pounding on the Bruins’ heated rival Colfax right before the PVL tournament. He missed one dual meet because of the crash.

“When he stepped out on that mat, the very first time after he was hurt, he walked out,” Nebeker said. “Even though he was going to forfeit, he still hobbled out there to shake the El Dorado heavyweight’s hand. And then to go out and do what he did against Colfax and tear that guy apart. He was back. It definitely gave (the team) some momentum.”

Said Figueroa: “He tested it and I think the excitement of getting out there and doing it completely removed any injury.”

His inspiration is not short-lived. He still goes to physical therapy for his hip injury from the crash. And after the PVL tournament, in which he went 1-1 beating his first opponent before losing 4-2 in his second match, he’s leading a team of 11 wrestlers in the sub-section meet for Bear River. It’s an unprecedented number for a team that only had a handful in the tournament last season.

“This year, I think our team has made a leap,” Duncan said. “We’ve taken a giant step that Bear River hasn’t been able to take yet.”

I’ll put my bet that his teammates and casual observers are at the least somewhat inspired by his resilience and fortitude. I know I am.

And if Duncan goes big this weekend at the sub section tournament, I’m of the belief that it’ll upstage his first comeback.

Right now, nobody can upstage him though.


Zuri Berry is a sports writer at The Union. His column appears Wednesdays. Contact him via e-mail at zberry@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4244. You can also read his blog online at TheUnion.com.

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