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Wrestling with pain

Bryce Turnbull had to overcome big obstacles in final Viking season
by: Chase Allgood Bryce Turnbull, seen here at the 2010 Bob Beisell Invitational, faced challenges on and off the mat this year.

Sometimes a win is more than just a win.

For Forest Grove wrestler Bryce Turnbull, his victory in the pre-state qualification meet last month meant more than the resulting berth into the state tournament.

It was a victory for a year full of life-altering changes, painful adaptations and overwhelming frustrations.

It was a victory for a senior season that nearly ended before it got started. It was a victory that was nine seconds away from never happening.

Nine months before his senior wrestling season was set to begin, Bryce's world turned completely upside down. His mother, Roxie Turnbull, passed away early in 2010 from recurring breast cancer that had spread into her liver. She died a day after being hospitalized, leaving her son without, as his coach, Frank Johnson, put it, 'the glue that held Bryce together.'

'More than anyone, she understood Bryce,' Johnson said. 'In difficult situations, she was the person he turned to.'

Roxie, a single mom who worked for the Hillsboro School District, was a big supporter of his wrestling, traveling to all of the tournaments, near and far, to cheer for her son. According to Bryce, she was the one who talked him into wrestling in the first place and then later, supported his interest by driving him twice a week to Scappoose, so Bryce could wrestle in the Cobra Wrestling Club.

'She would be willing to give her life up for him,' said Sharon DeView, Bryce's maternal grandmother. 'He was her life.'

Bryce agrees. 'My Mom and I had a really good relationship,' he said. '(Her death) definitely made me look at life differently.'

Hitting the wall

Coping without his mom was tough, but Bryce was pulling through.

Then came the punch.

It was in December, two weeks into the official wrestling season. Near the end of practice before a match with Hillsboro, Bryce, became agitated.

'I was just trying to take some shots while wrestling live,' he said. 'And things just weren't happening. (When) I look back, I wish I would have just yelled until I ran out of breath.'

Instead, he punched the padded wall in the wrestling room.

'It was obvious that something was very wrong,' Johnson said. 'Because he had what looked like an extra bone right at the base of his finger.'

Bryce, who hit the wall at an angle, had broken the metacarpal bone in his pinky finger.

According to Dr. David Buuck, a Hillsboro orthopedic specialist who worked with Bryce on his rehabilitation, his injury, commonly known as a 'boxer's break' could take up to four months to heal. Wrestling season is only two months. Bryce's hand was immobilized and it was hoped it would only take four weeks to heal.

It took six.

'During recovery, he was unable to lock his hands,' Johnson said. 'The minute he attempted to grip something or clasp his hands together during drills, he was in pain. Being able to lock your hands in the sport of wrestling is very important. He was at a huge disadvantage in terms of his ability to prepare himself for competition.'

It was another setback for Bryce who was in his final season as a wrestler at Forest Grove and his first without his Mom.

It would have been easy for the young athlete to, as Coach Johnson put it, 'dwell on the negative when he encounters obstacles.'

But Bryce refused to let that happen.

'The biggest change was his mindset,' Johnson said of Bryce's recovery. 'At practice, Bryce did everything he could to keep himself in shape.'

When his hand finally healed, Bryce returned to the mat with vengeance. He won his last five matches heading into Districts. He won his first three at the 6A Special District 1 meet before losing to Century senior Dylan Vandehey in the semifinals.

Bryce's loss bumped him into the consolation bracket and set up his must-win match against Beaverton's Jordan Michael, with the winner securing a place in the state tournament.

Rising to the challenge

Despite the throng of screaming Forest Grove fans, Bryce found himself on his back seconds into his match against Michael.

A near pin. Lucky to escape.

'I felt like I was beat right from the beginning because I went straight to my back,' Turnbull said. 'It felt terrible.'

At the end of the first round, Bryce was down 5-0.

When the whistle blew, Johnson expected to see Bryce's normal reaction. Anger. Frustration. The very loud, very negative internal voice that normally gets the best of him.

None of that happened.

'Bryce was calm and composed,' Johnson said. 'It took so much self control and he did more than compose himself.'

Bryce came out in the second round and set about closing the gap. He allowed Michael only one point over the next round and a half, cutting his lead to 6-4 with 30 seconds left in the third round. Forest Grove wrestlers and fans stood in the bleachers, moving and twisting with the wrestlers, yelling and cheering for Bryce.

'I remember my coach saying to me 'you got to go,'' Bryce said. 'From there I kicked it into gear.'

Bryce scored a takedown at the thirty second mark to tie the match at 6-6. But Michael escaped to score another critical point and retake the lead, 7-6, with less than 20 seconds left to go.

Unfazed, Bryce charged again, this time getting far enough under Michael's arms to lock his hands. With a grip that would have once caused him pain, Bryce lifted Michael off his feet and scored another takedown with less than nine seconds left on the clock, securing his place in the state tournament.

'We were ecstatic,' Johnson said. 'With everything on the line, Bryce rose to the challenge and made it happen in dramatic fashion. He not only provided the wrestling fans with a great memory, he proved to himself that he can overcome obstacles.'

When the ref raised his hand in victory, Bryce did an unexpected thing. He smiled. A smile that according to Johnson, 'didn't leave his face for 10 minutes.'

Asked what his mom would think of his victory, Bryce said:

'She would have said, 'That was the best match I've ever seen you wrestle! I'm so proud of you!''

A pride that was evident in Bryce's response, representing his change and his growth from such difficult circumstances.

'After the match I felt like a changed person,' Bryce said. 'If I could do that, I know I could do anything I put my mind to. Because really, the match was almost against myself.'