WELLMAN, Ia. — Levi Duwa rocked back and forth on his crutches, an unwavering smile fully plastered across his innocent face.
Planted behind the Mid-Prairie bench, the Iowa football commit laughed and joked with teammates and coaches while watching the Golden Hawks roll to a senior night dual win over Cascade.
Entrenched in a grueling recovery process that has ripped away multiple sports, included one devastating setback and repeatedly tested his mental fortitude, Duwa finds a sliver of solace in this camaraderie.
It certainly took some time for him to warm up given the circumstances, but the 6-foot-3 senior’s outlook is gradually improving even though his final wrestling campaign was reduced to nothing.
“There for a little while, I just wasn’t feeling it,” said Duwa, who reached the Class 2A finals at 220 pounds last season. “Every time I’d be around (the guys), it’d just bum me out.
“But I’m getting more used to it now.”
It wasn’t supposed to unfold this way. Although Duwa’s football season ended prematurely after suffering a ruptured tendon in his left foot during Mid-Prairie’s Sept. 30 loss to Williamsburg, he received positive news following his Oct. 5 surgery.
No screws were initially needed, leaving the door open for a possible return to wrestling after Christmas break. He couldn’t do much, but Duwa still spent parts of the next month out of the walking boot. Things appeared promising.
“It was just a routine checkup,” Duwa said. “So I had the X-ray, and (the doctor) didn’t like something. So we did a CT scan, and he noticed something was wrong. I went in for surgery again right before Thanksgiving.
“There were two bones that were spread out further than they would’ve liked, and you can see some of the other bones are like really out of whack, I guess, or misplaced. So they actually went in, and a bunch of stuff was tore up. They said it was pretty bad. (The doctors put a metal plate in) on top of my foot, and then they have two screws kind of in the side. And then I got four of my bones fused together. It kind of just holds them in place.”
This time, there was no doubt.
Wrestling — over.
A chance at 150 career wins — over.
Another crack at trying to secure a title — over.
“It was kind of a surprise when we found out that Levi couldn’t wrestle,” said Mid-Prairie senior Duncan McCain, who’s been wrestling with Duwa for more than a decade. “It was like one day, he’s in here. And the next day, he’s not here — and we find out he has to have surgery. The day after that, he’s out for the season.”
Given that he would’ve been right in the mix to capture a state title this season, Duwa admitted that update “really stunk.” McCain said he didn’t see his senior mate in a wrestling setting for “a month to a month and half” after that second surgery.
Now, though, things have shifted toward the future. Duwa’s next appointment is Feb. 7, which he hopes will provide a more detailed timetable on when he can resume various activities. Duwa believes he’ll be able to walk again fully “in about a week,” but right now, he’s simply pushing through physical therapy to regain mobility in his ankle and toes.
“It’s obviously going to be a slow process still for quite a while,” Duwa said. "Supposedly, it’s until June sometime (when I’ll be back fully healthy). I’m going to start lifting some more upper body now that I can put a little more weight on and move around a little bit, so that’ll be nice. But obviously, I still won’t be able to do much lower body stuff.
“It won’t take that long to gain all that back, but I’m still waiting for the time that I can start moving around and running around, because I definitely need to start getting back in shape and just gaining back my mobility and everything.”
Prior to the second surgery, there was little doubt that Duwa would be fully healthy by the time he reported to Iowa this summer. But given that there’s at least some uncertainty there now — plus Duwa’s current weight — a redshirt season could be in store. The defensive end commit is listed anywhere from 220 to 230 pounds.
On the Hawkeyes' 2016 roster, the average listed weight of their eight defensive ends was 254 pounds.
“I’m guessing they’re probably going to redshirt me,” Duwa said, “For my size obviously — but also for this reason, just to make sure I’m 100 percent healthy. And just in case I’m not, it’ll give me that extra year. I’m pretty sure — I haven’t talked to the coaches much about it — but I’m guessing I’m probably going to redshirt.”
Although undoubtedly challenging, Duwa’s focus remains honed in on what's ahead.
“Everyone just tells me it’s going to make me a better person in the long run, and I agree with that,” he said. “It’s tough. Being around wrestling and stuff, it hurts. But it’s just something I have to deal with.
“That’s life, I guess.”
Dargan Southard covers preps, recruiting, Iowa and UNI athletics for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral.com. Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.