Dunia Sibomana-Rodriguez earned wrestling rock star status a year ago, winning the New York State Division 1 102-pound championship as an eighth-grader in his first season of high school varsity competition.
And although he was unable to secure a repeat state title two weeks after capturing a second straight Nassau County crown, Sibomana-Rodriguez added another verse to his amazing journey from Central Africa to Long Beach by taking four of five matches at Albany’s MVP Arena for a third-place (All-State) finish.
He was stopped in the waning moments of a 110-pound state semifinal last Saturday morning by Valley Central’s Luke Satriano, the eventual champion who emerged with a 2-1 decision thanks to a takedown with less than 30 seconds remaining.
“It was a very emotional moment and I was disappointed to lose, but I had to rebound from it,” Sibomana-Rodriguez said.
Sibomana-Rodriguez stormed back from the heartbreaking defeat and won back-to-back matches to finish third. He rolled Austin Zimmerman of St. Joseph Collegiate, 9-0, to gain no worse than fourth place. He then notched an 8-4 decision over Ralph Keeney of Ballston Spa to close the weekend on a positive note.
“I wanted to set the tone for the next time I’m here and glad I won my last two matches,” Sibomana-Rodriguez said.
The No. 1 seed, he cruised past both of his opponents Friday to advance to the semifinals. The freshman phenom began his tournament by pinning a familiar foe — Hewlett’s Carlos Salazar — in 4:58 and then defeated Spencerport’s Ryan Cieslinski by major decision, 14-2, in the quarterfinals.
“First and foremost, I’m extremely proud of Dunia,” Long Beach coach Ray Adams said. “He wrestled great all weekend and showed the kind of mental toughness you like to see by battling back to take third. He took everyone’s best shot all season and was 27 seconds away from getting back to the state final in a very difficult weight class. He’s an incredible young man.”
At 15 years old, Sibomana-Rodriguez has already experienced a life’s worth of tragedy and triumph. Nine years ago, he was the lone survivor of a chimpanzee attack while he and two family members were playing near Virunga National Park, a prominent animal preserve, in the Congo in Central Africa.
While his brother and cousin were killed, Dunia survived but was left with life-altering facial injuries that included torn lips and cheek, as well as muscle damage that made it hard to swallow and talk, and the loss of a finger.
So far, he’s endured 16 surgeries, the first of which took place in January of 2016 at Stony Brook University Children’s Hospital to restore his appearance and facial function thanks to a nonprofit organization called Smile Rescue Fund for Kids.
Dunia’s most recent medical treatment took place in July of 2021, said his adoptive father and Long Beach assistant coach Miguel Rodriguez. “He has more procedures to come, but he was able to enjoy last summer and compete in some big tournaments,” Rodriguez said.
Dunia began wrestling competitively five years ago with the Long Beach Gladiators youth program, also coached by Rodriguez.
In two seasons at the varsity level, Sibomana-Rodriguez has 66 victories with a pair of county championships, a state title and an All-State finish.
“Dunia is an extremely competitive kid,” Rodriguez said. “He had a great season and there’s much more from him to come.”