COMEBACK COMPLETE: Bowman wins 120-pound state championship
FARGO—Ethan Bowman and his family got the worst possible news two years ago.
The Jamestown High School junior was told he'd never wrestle again after breaking his back in competition. But Bowman's journey back to the mat culminated Saturday at the Fargodome.
Bowman defeated Minot's lengthy grappler Corey Hooker in a 5-2 decision for the 120-pound championship at the North Dakota Class A state individual wrestling tournament.
"It's unbelievable," Bowman said. "To be wrestling again—to win the state title—it's all so awesome. I'll never forget it."
Hooker (36-15) scored the first takedown in the opening period, but Bowman (46-8) was able to secure a one-point escape to end the first two minutes facing a 2-1 deficit.
"It happened in previous matchups," said Blue Jay wrestling coach Larry Eslick. "It was just a matter of chipping away at the lead, being patient and understanding there's no panic.
"It's only a two-point lead."
Bowman kept Hooker on the ground for the entire second frame, while neither wrestler gained a point. The match began to unravel for Hooker in the third, as Bowman grabbed ahold of the Magicians' leg and scored a takedown.
"I knew that I had to finish it," Bowman said. "I couldn't seek anything less than a takedown at that point. I couldn't stall because I knew he could ride out the time."
After the clock hit zero, Bowman pointed to his support section in the stands that have been with him since the beginning of the injury.
"If he steps up on that podium, he'll be standing there with 20 other people that have given hundreds of hours," said Bowman's father, Shawn, earlier in the week. "It's about a community behind him."
A long road to the top
In October of 2015, prior to Bowman's freshman season, he sustained a serious back injury while participating at the Preseason Nationals in Cedar Falls, Iowa. While wrestling the No. 1 seed in his weight class, his opponent pulled Bowman's head back, forcing extra tension in the back.
Bowman was diagnosed with spondylolysis, or a pars fracture of the spring in his L4 and L5 vertebrae, and after getting told by a doctor he would never wrestle again, Bowman and his father drove up to Toronto, Canada to see a specialist.
The elder Bowman said the doctor worked with Ethan for five hours teaching him how to sit down, bend over and walk correctly. Bowman would later receive stem cell injections in his hips and back in Denver, Colo., to aid the healing.
Overall, about 50 to 60 percent of athletes with this type of injury make it back into sports, the family was told.
"I wouldn't be here without my team," Bowman said. "All the prayer I received from my church; all the help I've received from my trainer Matt Oden; all my coaches every single day working with me, making me better.
"That's what's made the difference."
When Bowman finally returned this season, he never lost a step.
"We are grateful to God for the men and women that have came around him," his father said. "If it wasn't for them he wouldn't have made it."
Bowman said he plans to take two weeks off from training, but added he plans to quickly get right back at it to defend his state title next year.
"I know one year from now I'm going to be competing again no matter who it's against," Bowman said. "It doesn't stop here. This is just the beginning."
Hatcher, Braun, Vandal place at state
The Blue Jays' Noah Braun, Paul Vandal and Braden Hatcher also placed at the Class A state individual wrestling tournament.
Braun won his first match but dropped his final two to earn a sixth-place finish at 145 pounds.
"We said going into the tournament he's the scariest unseeded wrestler in the tournament," Eslick said. "He was a tough draw for anyone and he came in and upset the No. 5 seed and knew we were on a roll then."
Paul Vandal also earned sixth at 195 after pinning his first opponent and dropping his final two matches.
"We worked with Paul about getting more of an offense," Eslick said. "We were really happy he finally decided to put some things to use."
Hatcher got seventh after his opponent forfeited the match with a concussion.
Class A State Individual Wrestling Tournament
Saturday's Blue Jay results
Ethan Bowman (120): Championship—Bowman dec. Corey Hooker, Minot, 5-2.
Braden Hatcher (132): Cons. Round 3 - Tate Laducer (Turtle Mountain) pinned Hatcher, 1:45; 7th-place match - Hatcher defeated Koletan Hafey (Dickson), forfeit.
Noah Braun (145): Cons. Round 3 - Braun dec Matthew Meschke (Dickinson), 6-2; Cons. Round 4 - Raif Horswill dec Braun 3-1; Fifth-place match - Clint Coleman (Century) dec Braun, 5-1.
Paul Vandal (195): Cons. Round 3 - Vandal pinned Houston Visto (West Fargo), 4:54; Cons. Round 4 - Ronald Wilkie III (Turtle Mountain) pinned Vandal, 4:54; Fifth-place match - Louis DeCoteau (Turtle Mountain) dec Vandal, 5-0.