Bryson Lefler, a 6-year-old from Albia, was visited by members of the Iowa wrestling program this week at theStead Family Children's Hospital in Iowa City. (Contributed Video from Blake Lefler.) USA TODAY Handout
The sport of wrestling has taken Terry Brands all over the world, both as a competitor and a coach. But on Wednesday, Iowa’s associate head coach offered perhaps his most impactful piece of instruction just down the street from Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Brands and a handful of Iowa wrestlers made a trip to the University of Iowa’s Stead Family Children’s Hospital, where they visited Bryson Lefler, a 6-year-old from Albia who’s been there for the last week. Brands offered Bryson a lesson in wrestling technique, and left Lefler with a memory he will carry forever.
Bryson’s father, Blake, captured parts of the visit on video and posted them to social media. They’ve gathered hundreds of shares and retweets. In them, Brands is showing Lefler a move to set up a takedown. Bryson then attempted the move on Brands, as well as two-time national champion Spencer Lee, NCAA qualifier Vince Turk, redshirt freshman Nelson Brands, and assistant coach Bobby Telford.
“When I posted those videos, I just wanted to let people know how cool that was for them to do,” Blake Lefler told the Des Moines Register. “It was really cool that they made time to come and do that, because they didn’t have to.”
The videos have blazed through the wrestling’s Twitter community, both in Iowa and beyond. Blake Lefler admits to being a little overwhelmed by the response. The moment means more to them than most realize.
Bryson was born at 30 weeks and diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease where the body produces thick, sticky mucus that can clog the lungs, obstruct the pancreas and affect the digestive system. Those with it tend to have shorter life spans than those without.
There are different levels of cystic fibrosis. It is a disease caused by a defective gene, and there are over 2,000 known mutations. Bryson’s case is extremely rare. His mother, Kari, said that less than 200 people in the world share his specific mutation.
Terry Brands teaches Bryson Lefler, 6, wrestling technique during visit to Stead Family Children's Hospital. (Contributed Video from Blake Lefler.) USA TODAY Handout
“Essentially, when he gets sick, he can’t just take antibiotics like normal kids,” his father added. “He has to go to the hospital. We’re up here now because he started coughing really bad and his oxygen levels were dropping.
“We’ve been up here for about a week, and we’ve got at least another week to go. He’s doing very well, but they need to let the medicine run its course.”
Bryson’s hospital room includes a view of Kinnick Stadium. Earlier this week, his father said both Tristan Wirfs and A.J. Epenesa, Iowa football’s star offensive and defensive linemen, stopped by. Bryson asked them both why they didn’t wrestle, which made his dad laugh (to be fair, Wirfs did wrestle in high school).
Over the last year, wrestling has captured Bryson’s attention. His dad grew up a wrestler and is an avid Hawkeye fan, and Bryson gravitated toward the action. When he talks with family over FaceTime, he points toward Carver in the distance rather than Kinnick.
“You’d think the first reaction would be, you know, do you want to see the football field?” his mom said. “But it’s not. Bryson’s first reaction is to show people the brown triangles — on top of Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“He has this amazing view of Kinnick, but he wants to show everybody the brown triangles. This kid has a desire to wrestle. He watches wrestling videos like other kids watch cartoons.”
Added Blake: “He’s told me, I don’t know how many times, ‘Dad, I’m going to wrestle this year.’ We’re trying to maybe make that happen. We’ve got some medical things we need to work around, and he’s very behind on growth because of the disease. But he wants to wrestle. He wants to go to a Hawkeye wrestling meet. He’s got big aspirations.”
One of the nurses Bryson has seen this week happened to be Alex Telford, Bobby Telford's wife. She's worked with Bryson before, and asked his father on Wednesday if Bryson had any interest in meeting some Iowa wrestlers. Of course, Blake said. He’d love that.
“He was taking a nap (on Wednesday), and the nurse came in and said, ‘Hey, there’s some people here to meet you. They’re Iowa wrestlers,’” Blake recalled. “So, of course, he jumped right out of bed.”
In walked Terry Brands, Nelson Brands, Lee, Turk and Telford. Bryson showed them around his room, the view of the stadium, and, of course, the brown triangles. He asked them all if they drove trucks. Terry told him he drove a Dodge Ram.
Iowa Hawkeyes fans began a heart-warming new tradition on Sept. 2 by standing to wave at the children who are watching from University of Iowa Stead Family Children's Hospital.
Bryson's dad encouraged him to show them a hold they had briefly worked on, a Russian tie to set up a head-outside shot. Nelson Brands bent down into a stance, a training partner right there in the hospital room.
Dad whipped out his phone and started recording. Bryson grabbed Nelson’s right arm, threw it by, and stepped into a shot.
“Nice!” Nelson said.
“That is sweet,” Terry continued.
“You have to do one on every one,” Telford added — and Bryson proceeded to hit the move on Terry, then Turk, then Telford, then Lee.
“That’s better than our guys,” Terry said, sparking laughter.
Terry then showed Bryson a different variation of the move. Bryson followed the instructions carefully — throw the arm by the same way, but then shoot a head-inside shot instead. Bryson again practiced it on everybody, wearing a smile the whole way.
“There you go, you got it!” Terry said. “We got it!”
Before they all left, Blake snapped a picture of the whole group by the window, Bryson standing on the sill in the center, between Terry and Lee. Hours afterward, Blake said Bryson continued to rave about the visit.
The Iowa wrestling program gave Bryson the opportunity to do something his illness won’t allow, at least right now. And in return, the Hawkeyes picked up a lifetime fan.
“After they left, he was like, ‘Dad, I want to work on the move that coach Terry taught me,’” Blake recalled. “It was pretty cool for them to show up. He was just getting into wrestling. That visit today, he’s really interested now.
“I was thinking about buying season tickets this year. I know I will now.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
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