Long Beach wrestler Dunia Sibomana received his state championship plaque at a ceremony at Long Beach Middle School on Wednesday, March 9, 2022.  Credit: Johnny Milano

Dunia Sibomana accepted the state championship plaque and the large crowd in the Long Beach Middle School auditorium roared its approval Wednesday night. Within seconds, the entire place was standing and applauding Sibomana's accomplishment - only the second eighth-grader in Nassau history to win a state wrestling crown.

The 14-year-old was overwhelmed by all the support as he celebrated his 102-pound Division I state wrestling championship with his hometown.

"This town has made me feel so good, so awesome," he said. "They’ve treated me so well in the community and in school. And my family is just the best – I love them so much. I’m getting this award and it’s great. I would have never thought this is where I’d be at this point in my life. Everyone is just so happy."

Sibomana’s incredible story of survival and perseverance continues to gain national attention. Sibomana has defied the odds to be in this position. At six years old, playing just outside his village of Rutshuru in the jungle of the Virunga National Park, a vast animal preserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa, a troop of chimpanzees attacked him and two family members. His brother and cousin were killed in the attack.

Sibomana was left with disfiguring injuries to his lips, ears 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 or swallow. He has endured 14 surgeries and according to Dr. Alexander Dagum, there will be more to come, as the team of doctors continues to care for him and help remodel his face as he grows.

"He’s such a tough guy," said his adoptive father, Miguel Rodriguez, who is the Long Beach High School assistant wrestling coach. "I’m sure people don’t know the depth and the pain he has dealt with during all the surgeries and the amount of time he needs to heal from each of them. I’m so extremely proud of him in everything he does in his life. He’s a wonderful, loving boy."

Rodriguez and his wife Marissa officially adopted Sibomana just a few weeks ago, after an 18-month process.

"I fell in love with Dunia the first time I met him," said Marissa, while holding Dunia's baby sister, Stella, in the back of the auditorium. "This has been such a heartwarming journey, watching him grow and work hard to succeed in the things that he does like learning in school and his wrestling."

While Sibomana graciously accepted all the congratulatory handshakes and well-wishers, Marissa swelled with pride.

"I see him up there accepting such a prestigious award, and I can’t help but think of what he went through in his life for this to even be possible," she said. "I’ll admit the wrestling was so intense at the state tournament. And the pressure was so incredible. But he never wavered, never flinched. And I truly believe he knows he’s blessed to have had the opportunity. And we’re blessed to experience this all with him."

Newsday LogoDON'T MISS THIS LIMITED-TIME OFFER1 5 months for only $1Save on Unlimited Digital Access