FAIRFIELD, Conn. — Dunia Sibomana-Rodriguez continues to live a good life.
Family and friends traveled to a sprawling estate in the suburbs of Fairfield last weekend to fete Sibomana-Rodriguez and his 2022. They gathered at the family home of Ron and Barbara Carucci for an epic, four-in-one celebration for the young boy who beat incredible odds to capture the New York State Division I wrestling championship at 102 pounds as an eighth-grader in March.
“We wanted to show him how proud we are of his accomplishments,” said Miguel Rodriguez, his adoptive father. “This boy is special in so many ways. He is deeply committed to his family, sports and schooling. He’s a guy who was given a second chance in life and he is running with it.”
The gathering for Sibomana-Rodriguez, who at 6 years old survived a chimpanzee attack in his native Congo, acknowledged his official adoption by Marissa and Miguel Rodríguez, graduation from Long Beach Middle School and his 15th birthday on July 7.
"I love my family and all my friends," Sibomana-Rodriguez said. "I have so much love and support all around me. I'm very lucky."
The fourth element to the celebration was a spiritual one and very emotional for all in attendance. Sibomana-Rodriguez, whose birth father died three years ago in Africa, had prayed for his son to one day be baptized.
His uncle, Ron Carucci, performed the admission and adoption of the Christian sacrament of baptism before dipping Sibomana-Rodriguez in the family inground swimming pool — the immersion in water symbolizing purification.
“The baptism was awesome and something we’ve been talking about for a while,” Miguel Rodriguez said. “His dad was very religious in Africa and never had the opportunity over there to have him baptized. It was very special. I knew his dad wanted that for Dunia and we wanted to do it in honor of his dad.”
Marissa Rodriguez wiped away tears as she watched the baptism alongside Dunia’s godparents, Carrie Diamond and John DeVivio.
“When I think about where Dunia has been and how far he has come it blows my mind,” she said. “I loved everything about him the first day I met him. He has many gifts and he’s such an inspiration. The baptism and celebration of his amazing life with our family and friends was wonderful. He still has hills to climb and goals to reach. And he still needs many facial surgeries because he’s still a growing boy.”
Sibomana-Rodriguez’s improbable journey to America began nine years ago when he and two family members were attacked by a troop of chimpanzees while playing in the jungle of Virunga National Park, a vast Congolese animal preserve in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. His brother and cousin were killed.
Sibomana-Rodriguez survived the attack 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.
“You will not find a more beautiful, genuine boy,” said Long Beach wrestling coach Ray Adams, after Sibomana-Rodriguez became Long Beach High School’s 17th state champion. “We can all learn from him. He is so happy with life and lives it to its fullest. He’s a lesson in perseverance and courage. And he proves every day that when given a second chance, make the most of it.”
Sibomana-Rodriguez has been busy since his run to the state title, where he reeled off 30 straight wins, including a first-period pin over top-seeded Ryan Ferrara of Chenango Forks in 1:32 in the final at the MVP Arena in Albany.
He finished third in the Virginia Beach Nationals with a 7-1 record and then competed in the Spartan Nationals in Jacksonville, Florida, sweeping the individual tournaments for middle schoolers and high schoolers with seven straight wins on April 9-10.
He went to the Ultimate Club Duals at Penn State on April 22-24 and finished with a 6-1 record, losing only to the fourth-ranked wrestler in the country.
“He had some great wins and a very tough loss,” Miguel Rodriguez said. “The experience will help him grow.”
He wrestled at the Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center in Las Vegas and took third place in the U16 US Open on April 28-29.
And he became the only Triple Crown winner in the state of New York when he captured the freestyle and Greco-Roman state titles in Victor May 20-22.
“He trains every day, running, lifting weights and practicing three times a day,” Miguel Rodriguez said. “We ran the Shelter Island 10K for Father’s Day and he finished third in the 19U division in 41:46. He’s amazing.”
Sibomana-Rodriguez is scheduled to board a flight early Thursday morning from LaGuardia Airport to Fargo, North Dakota, for the national championship.
"I'm wrestling the top guys around the country," Sibomana-Rodriguez said. "The experience is making me a better wrestler. I learn more every time I compete."
It’s the next stop for the amazing one, in what has been a whirlwind of a year.
“There are no limits,” Sibomana-Rodriguez said. “I can do anything as long as I work hard for it.”