Photo of Jack Bowman raising Rulon Gardner's hand after defeating Dremiel Byers at the 2004 Olympic Team Trials.
USA Wrestling’s “Wrestler for Life” program is accepting submissions for “The Story of the Week”. It can be about anything wrestling related, whether it’s a particular wrestling match you’ll never forget, or a life lesson that the sport taught you. If your story is chosen, it will be featured on TheMat.com, and winners will receive a USA Wrestling t-shirt.
Send your submissions to: Wrestlerforlife@usawrestling.org
This week's submission is by Jason Bowman.
I’m writing this three days prior to traveling from Florida to Indiana to pick up my father Jack, after a long and nearly fatal bout with Covid-19. Jack was a long time USWOA, World Championships official, Official of the Year, board member, local coach, etc etc.
He drove to Indiana in July for a one month trip to stay at his property there. He picked up the virus within the first week. Started feeling the typical symptoms, he went and got tested knowing that if it came back positive, his age, his diabetes, and his heart would make him very vulnerable. He called me with the results coming back positive, and my first words were, “Okay, its time to battle.”
I knew what was coming, and it came quickly. He was in the hospital within a few days. Very shortly after in ICU, and then the call came that no family member wants to hear…He’s going to be intubated and put on a ventilator. For 21 days that machine kept him alive, while nobody he loved was able to be anywhere near him. We would text, but then he stopped responding. For 17 days I heard nothing from him, but I kept texting three times a day. I talked to him as if we were talking to the athletes we used to coach together. About how much we learned in this sport about the fight, how it is never over until that final whistle, how no matter how bad things get you can overcome if you just keep fighting.
Then one day the call came that they were going to try to take him off the vent. It was a nervous time because he wasn’t actually ready to come off, but they had to try something. He was extubated, and he had a stroke. “You better get here quick,” they told me. I was on the next flight.
When I arrived at Indiana University Hospital in Bloomington, he was awake. Still isolated in ICU with a c-pap breathing mask, but awake. He said, “What are you doing here?” I told him they let me come and he replied, “But I’m still Covid positive.” I said that doesn’t matter, and he stated: “That’s it. Time to start getting offensive, I’ve got this thing now.”
I spent the next five days with him in the Covid ward, and his progress was unbelievable. He actually went from a stroke coming off the vent, to discharge from the hospital into a rehab center in six days. Throughout those six days we talked a lot about wrestling. Talked about how the skills to battle on the mat play out in real life. Talked about how the support from not just his blood family, but his wrestling family from around the world helped pull him through. Because that’s what we do in this wrestling world. There are no enemies, only friends who are also foes.
As they wheeled him out of the hospital to head to rehab, my last sentence to him was a line from the coach who got me involved in the sport, “when all else fails”….which he completed with “stand up and kick the s*** out of somebody”. The doctors loved that! In four weeks of rehab he continued to kick the s*** out of it. We all expected purchasing new equipment such as wheelchairs and bathroom rails, modifying his house to make it handicap accessible, and a life of constantly checking the oxygen tanks. But just a couple weeks later he was joining my brother, walking the dogs around the neighborhood, no oxygen tank.
He still has a long road ahead, but he has already won the major battles. And he continues to battle every inch. Many people have said it was God who pulled him through. Many believe it is the powerful support of prayers and positivity. And I do believe it is a little of both. But I believe the main reason he survived is because of his fight. The fight he learned from being so immersed in this sport for a long time. The sport of wrestling has not only taught my father and myself a way of life, but those teachings from the sport saved his life. His battle with this vicious, evil disease is the definition of wrestler… for life.
I’m forever grateful for many things I’ve had the blessings to experience due to my involvement with this sport, but I will never be more grateful than for what we learn from it, because it allowed him to find his way home.