Head games

Wrestling team dealing with high number of injuries

Cody Norman doesn't remember what happened, but from what he's been told about how he suffered a concussion the first week of wrestling practice, it was a crazy thing to watch.

"I fell into Justin Hegwer, and then Trenton Duarte fell on me," he said. "It was all sort of a fluke."

Moffat County wrestlers have had three such flukes this season. Norman, sophomore Zack Klimper and junior Levi Weber all suffered head injuries in the first month of the season.

"Head injuries are the second most common I see in wrestling," trainer Jeff Pleasant said. "But to have this many is not common."

The string of head injuries is a coincidence. The injuries occurred in different ways. Norman's injury involved other wrestlers around him in practice, Weber butted heads with an opponent in a match, and Klimper was thrown on his head during a match.

"It's so unusual," coach Roman Gutierrez said. "In my 24 years, I haven't seen so many."

Don't expect to see the Bulldog wrestlers in helmets any time soon.

"As a sport, we try to prevent any sort of injury," Gutierrez said. "Zack's case was the only one that could have been prevented."

Klimper was lifted and thrown on his head during the season's first junior varsity tournament. He was taken to the hospital in Steamboat Springs and eventually flown to a hospital in Denver.

The move in which Klimper was injured was illegal and the wrestler who performed it was immediately disqualified.

"When you put someone in the air we teach our kids that they need to be the first ones to hit the mat," Gutierrez said. "An official has no control over what a kid does once he has him in the air until after the move is performed."

Although Klimper returned the next week to watch his team compete against Hayden, the earliest he would wrestle is after Christmas break.

Norman said that recovering from a head injury is one of the most frustrating experiences he has had.

"On the outside, it doesn't look like anything's wrong," he said. "You just sit at practice in your street clothes with no brace or cast. It just looks like you don't want to practice."

Pleasant said that recovering from a head injury tends to be frustrating for athletes.

"You can rush back because, other than an occasional headache and dizziness, the symptoms are few," Pleasant said. "But you're in the hands of a doctor deciding."

Concussions or head injuries are separated into three levels.

Weber suffered a Level 1 injury. He experienced dizziness after head-butting an opponent. He sat out the next day, but returned to the mat two days later. A Level 2 injury might cause headaches for a couple of days and cause an athlete to miss one to two weeks. Level 3 injuries occur when the athlete becomes unconscious.

Both Klimper and Norman suffered Level 3 injuries.

"(Colorado State High School Activities Assoc--iation) used to have a rule that if you suffered two Level 2 or Level 3s in one year, you were done. They've changed it now to put it in the hands of the doctor."

Norman said doctors told him to be cautious but that he could return to wrestling.

"They said if I went back too soon and got another, it could be fatal," he said. "It was tough not to return too fast, because the team needed me, and after my headaches went away, it seemed like nothing was wrong."

Despite the warnings, Norman said he's more focused on making up for lost time.

"I'm out of shape compared to everybody else," he said. "I need to work hard after Christmas to get back."

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