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Teen is wrestling his way back from injury

By Jeff Kiger

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

"All smiles."

That was Brett Hansen Begg’s answer to what he thought of the bustling gym at Rochester Community and Technical College with crowds filling the stands and about 200 wrestlers competing on six mats.

While the majority of fans and wrestlers gathered there on Saturday morning didn’t know the 16-year-old Hansen Begg sitting in a wheelchair next to the mats, they were all there to help him.

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In August, Hansen Begg of Watertown, Minn., suffered a traumatic injury to all areas of his brain. While he survived, the injury forced the former high school wrestler to re-learn everything, from walking to speaking.

Word spread throughout the tight-knit wrestling community in the region that one of their own needed help.

Mental aerobics

That’s how "Big Jim" Richardson, Grand Meadow’s police chief and well-known wrestling coach and supporter, learned of Hansen Begg and his family.

Richardson started an annual wrestling tournament last year called the Mental Aerobics Invitational to bring wrestlers from all over the region to raise money for a family in need.

He says the creation of the event came from his reaction to reading regular prayer requests for wrestling families facing tough times.

"I didn’t get tired of us praying for people, but I just thought to myself, ‘You can only do so much praying and then you’ve got to get your hands dirty,’" Richardson says.

He then created the off-season invitational that he says is all about "kids wrestling for kids in need." He chose Hansen Begg and his family as the focus of this year’s event.

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"It is amazing," said Greta Hansen Begg, Brett’s mother, while sitting in the stands on Saturday. "Just to be here and see this wrestling and this support, it really does get him motivated to get better."

She marveled at the crowd brought out by Richardson, whom she had not met until that morning.

Road to recovery

None of Brett’s brain damage is permanent, but the road back is a tough one, says his mom. Money raised from the wrestling is expected to be used to buy equipment, such as a special assisted walker device or a therapy bike.

How about the wrestlers who made weight and got up early on an off-season Saturday to wrestle?

"It is for one of our brothers," said Casey Johnson, a heavyweight wrestler at Kasson-Mantorville High School.

Though too old to participate this year, last year’s outstanding wrestler Eric Yngsdal was helping by the mats and at the scorer tables.

The former Byron High School wrestler said he wanted to help Richardson in any way he could to push the Mental Aerobics Invitational forward.

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When asked about the invitational’s name, Richardson told the story of his battle with cancer about 10 years ago. His eventual victory over it included about two years of chemotherapy, which left him recovering almost motionless in his basement.

Since he couldn’t move, he created a regimen he calls mental aerobics to mentally sharpen himself. After his recovery, he began giving mental aerobics T-shirts out to high-school wrestlers who showed drive and passion for academics, wrestling and the rest of life.

For Hansen Begg, the philosophy of this police officer whom he barely knows could be a valuable tool.

"Brett has a lot of time to think, and I can see already that Jim’s ideas are having an impact," said Greta Hansen Begg.

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