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Paralyzed Wrestler in Bout of His Life / Upbeat 'Droz' to begin physical rehabilitation

The badly executed "powerbomb" Darren Drozdov received last week during a

professional wrestling match at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum left two of

his vertebrae dislocated and his lower body useless, but it appears to have

done nothing to weaken the pride and heart of "Droz."

"I'm just trying to get ready for the fight" for physical rehabilitation,

Drozdov, 30, said Tuesday from his hospital bed at Nassau County Medical

Center, where his massive body, often seen bouncing off the ropes of a World

Wrestling Federation ring, lay almost motionless.

The former Denver Bronco football player spent a week in intensive care before

being upgraded to stable condition Tuesday. Yesterday, he was helicoptered to

the Magee Rehabilitation Hospital of the Jefferson Health System in

Philadelphia, for what promises to be the toughest bout of his life.

"If it's not one thing, it's another, so you just got to keep fighting through.

You can't give up," Drozdov said in the Tuesday interview.

The Mays Landing, N.J., native remained in constant pain and discomfort with

his neck stabilized in one position. He could barely move his arms and

shoulders and had no feeling below his waist, but would not concede the

possibility of permanent paralysis.

"It's going to take some time, but I'll be back," Drozdov said.

Several of Drozdov's fellow grapplers and coworkers from the WWF visited

Drozdov during his hospital stay, including owner Vince McMahon. D'Lo Brown,

his opponent during the Oct. 5 match in which he was hurt, was among the first

to visit.

"I told D'Lo from day one that things happen and it's not his fault. This was

something that was a mistake. Nobody did it intentionally," Drozdov said. "I

mean it's just a fact of life in any job... You go into it expecting to be OK

and some days it doesn't turn out that way."

Some 15,000 fans watched the routine wrestling move that went disastrously

wrong during the Uniondale match. Brown picked up Drozdov with the intent of

dropping him on his back. Instead, the 6-foot-5, 270-lb. Drozdov fell on his

head with Brown apparently losing balance and falling on top of him as well.

"I knew what had happened, " said Drozdov, who joined the federation in 1997.

"I felt my neck snap and I hurt for everybody because I didn't want people to

see me like that."

Drozdov lay flat in the ring for more than 15 minutes with no sensation below

his neck, as fans and family watched silently.

"The first thing that went through my mind was her," Drozdov said, gesturing

toward his fiancee, Julie Youngberg, who received her engagement ring one week

before the accident. "I knew she was in the back watching me. I just wanted to

jump up and tell her that I was going to be all right, but I knew."

Within minutes the ring was crowded with medical officials and WWF personnel.

"Everybody was telling me I'd be fine but I was like, 'Look, I'm paralyzed.

It's OK.' And it is. I'll fight through it."

If any good can come out of his injury, the popular athlete hoped his many

young fans would think twice before trying to imitate the moves of their

favorite wrestlers.

"Kids need to realize that they do this stuff at home and we're trained

athletes and we get hurt. We know what we're doing and we still get hurt,"

Drozdov said. "They need to realize that."

But despite the severity of his injury, the young wrestler does not count out

an eventual return to the ring.

"I'll decide when the time comes," Drozdov said, "but I love it... I don't have

any regrets."

Doctors have told him that his rehabilitation may take years, and will not

ensure he will ever walk again. To Drozdov, it's another battle.

"I'm going in expecting to win," Drozdov said. "If it doesn't happen, it

doesn't happen ... And I'll go from there. Life goes on."

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