Every week, Lake Voice features work from the Storytelling Project. This project is a storytelling partnership between a group of young Duluthians who live with some kind of disability (mostly traumatic brain injuries) and various UMD students who help these people write their stories.
One hour spent with this group shows how important it is to build community connections and execute service-learning projects the way they are really meant to be done.
This week from the Storytelling Project, Lake Voice is featuring a bittersweet personal story from Dustin Wyberg, a contagiously smiley person who suffered a traumatic brain injury almost eleven years ago. Wyberg chronicles his experience as a wrestler on Roseau High School's team, the accident that caused his traumatic brain injury, and his new reality post accident.
By Dustin Wyberg, in collaboration with Hannah Oakes
Tournaments took place on weekends but never on Sundays, but matches—they could happen really anytime. Tournaments were always on Saturdays. They were divided up by weight classes, but there were schools from the whole school district in the tournaments. They usually took place in the afternoons. There were always crowds at tournaments, everyone wanted to watch the matches. There weren’t any requirements to attend, even poor people off the street like to watch, you just had to be human.
Before a match, we had to weigh in, and then practice. Other than that, there wasn’t really much to do other than chicken out. But, that’s true with every sport. There wasn’t some big sign that had our names on them to tell us when to go, if it was a team tournament, you just had to pay attention to know when to go, but if it was an individual tournament you had to listen for your name to be called. They took place in a gymnasium, for individual matches, there were a lot of matches on the gym floor spread out, but in team matches, there was just one mat in the middle of the gym floor.
There were lines printed on the mat where we had to stand, at Rosseau the mats were green and white. We had to stand on the lines and wait until the ref gave us the signal to go. Some people would shake hands before they started, but mostly we just took our places on the mats and then waited.
Wrestle. And we began. We would try to attempt our moves to disable the opponent—one good way to take them down would be to shoot at them by taking them out by their legs. The goal was to get them down on their backs, with both shoulders flat on the mat. My favorite was getting them in a headlock to make them lose their footing it; was almost a sure way to get them on the ground. Each period lasted only two minutes, when those two minutes were up the ref blew a whistle. Wrestling matches are based on a point system. You get two points for takedowns and reversals, and then one point for escapes. If you kept your opponent on their back for more than three or five seconds, I’m not really sure the exact number, you got an extra point—they’re called “back points”.
The gymnasium was loud and smelly. Just imagine, there were about ten wrestlers per team, but there could be several schools per tournament. It could be anywhere from four to eight teams at a tournament. That’s a lot of sweaty guys. During the match, coaches are yelling at you trying to give you advice. There are so many different kinds of moves for all kinds of positions. There were even a lot of kinds of moves for escapes. I never really paid attention to the coaches yelling at me though, I had been wrestling long enough that I didn’t really have to listen. I wrestled from elementary school up until eleventh grade! How much do you really think I had to listen? Not only were our coaches screaming at you, there was also the crowd of parents, younger siblings, random people cheering for us yelling our names, even the poor guy off the street would be yelling and cheering for us! On top of that, sometimes the opponent would be cursing at me.
My favorite moves were the Half Nelson and the headlock. When we were both standing up, I liked to use the headlock. But, when we were both on the ground I really liked to use the half nelson. When your opponent is below you, you work your hand under their arm and then back behind their neck so you can turn them—it kind of works like a lever. So then you use that to get their two shoulders on the ground and pin them.
I started wrestling back in fourth grade, and I kicked the crap out of all the other kids. It was in my genes. My dad was a body builder. I just had the right build to be a wrestler. When I was younger it was more just to kill time, just for fun. I didn’t care as much about being competitive. Once I got to high school, I wanted to do better for the team. Once we got to high school, it really turned into more of a team sport. Up until high school, weight classes weren’t as important. You never saw fifth graders trying to cut weight—that’s probably for the better. I wrestled for the better part of seven years, but my “career” as a wrestler came to a halt when my friends and I were in a car accident.
On May 17, 2003 around 7:30 in the evening, Randy Brazier, Amanda Ostby and Dustin Wyberg were thrown from their vehicle after it lost control on a gravel road. Amanda passed away an hour after the accident. Randy was pronounced brain dead the following morning; his parents kept him on life support until his organs could be donated. Dustin was the sole survivor of the accident.
It was a miracle I survived, but my friends died. I was angry. Why did I live? Why didn’t they? I don’t remember the accident, and I don’t remember much from right before or after the accident. I used to flip everyone off after the accident—it was pretty rude, but at the time I didn’t really care. Before my accident, I was dating Tiffany Nelson, she was beautiful: blonde hair, blue eyes, a twig, and she was a goody good. We worked together at the Pizza Ranch. We started dating a few years before the accident. It was the relationship every couple would want, we got along pretty well, but after the accident we broke up. I don’t know for sure why, but I think it was because I was so rude to her.
I graduated from high school in 2004. It was too soon after the accident, it wasn’t all that exciting for me. I was appreciative, but sad. My friends would never have the chance to graduate from high school. They would never receive their diploma or go to college. I never went to college either, my brain injury prevented it. It’s okay though, I never really expected anything great to come of college anyways. I just wanted to live a normal life. Things happen, like the accident. You can’t let it bring you down, you know? There’s nothing you can do. It happened. I lived. I have to be thankful for that.
I live in Hermantown now with three roommates: Troy, Matt, and Dan. My friend Tim used to live in our basement. He died, but none of us really know how. He was blind and had a hard time speaking. I think he died of natural causes, but no one really told us. Troy is leaving soon. I don’t know when, but it doesn’t really matter. He spends most of his time in his room listening to really loud music. Matt plays video games and sleeps all the time. He isn’t very clean. Once, his tooth was so rotted, that it just fell out! Matt also likes to play Monopoly; we play board games together almost every night. I love playing board games. Monopoly, Chess, Scrabble, Skip-bo, Yahtzee, you name it. Did you know there’s a version of Monopoly for almost every sport? My dad bought a Green Bay Packer version for me. Dan keeps to himself. He lives in the basement, and has lived there for 5 or 6 years. No one really talks to him much—he’s worse than the rest of us, and he is kind of violent.
My dad comes to visit me often. I love my dad. He lives in the cities, it’s not too far away. My parents have been divorced for a very long time, but they get along. I get to go visit my mom sometimes, she lives in North Dakota now.
The sun is setting and the restaurant is slowing down. My shift ends. I step out into the fresh cool air of our northern town and walk towards my car to drive home. I turn the headlights off as I park my car in the driveway. On my way to the door, I see her standing over the kitchen sink washing potatoes. Her blonde hair shines in the light and her blue eyes are focused as she scrubs them clean.
“What are you making?” I ask, as I enter into our home. The walls are covered with photos of our past: wrestling tournaments, track meets, school dances, high school graduation, college graduation. Pictures of us surrounded by our families and friends, she in white and I in a tux.
“Mashed potatoes,” she smiles. “There’s a ham in the oven,” she adds, looking over her shoulder at me. She has been planning this dinner all week—all of our friends will be over. We will play games late into the night, talking about our lives, catching up, and laughing together. It will be perfect, because we have not a care in the world. Nothing else will matter.