Dunia Sibomana-Rodriguez almost died in the forests of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Now he's a high school wrestling star in Long Beach. See the documentary that explains his journey. Credit: Newsday; Rodriguez family

A team of Newsday reporters, producers, editors, videographers and researchers won a New York Emmy Award for a documentary chronicling the unlikely story of an eighth-grader from Long Beach who became a county wrestling champion years after suffering near-fatal injuries in a forest in Central Africa.

Newsday was awarded the top prize in the Sports Story-News (no production time limit) category for "Dunia Sibomana-Rodriguez: From tragedy to triumph" during a ceremony on Monday in Manhattan honoring the winners in sports categories. The awards in the news, documentary and promotional categories were handed out on Saturday, also in Manhattan.

Among those honored were Newsday producer and video editor Jeffrey Basinger; producer Robert Cassidy; reporter Gregg Sarra; videographers Thomas A. Ferrara, Steven Pfost, William Perlman and Reece T. Williams; video editor Susan Yale and researcher Caroline Curtin.

“Thanks so much to Dunia and his family for allowing Newsday to tell his incredible story through the lens of our talented editors and videographers,” Newsday publisher Debby Krenek said.

When Sibomana-Rodriguez was 6 years old, he and two family members were attacked by chimpanzees while playing in the jungle of Virunga National Park, an animal preserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His brother and cousin were killed.

Sibomana-Rodriguez survived but suffered horrific, disfiguring injuries to his lips and face. His right ear and facial muscles were gone, and the middle finger on his left hand was bitten off. The attack made it difficult for him to speak and swallow. When he was 8, Sibomana-Rodriguez arrived on Long Island for the first of 14 facial reconstruction surgeries.

Sarra began following Sibomana-Rodriguez before the wrestling season began, to practices, meets and 5 a.m. workouts. In February 2022, Sibomana-Rodriguez, then 14, claimed the 102-pound Nassau County title and he later won the state title.

In total, Newsday was nominated for 12 New York Emmy Awards this year, including, for the second year in a row, for overall excellence.

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