Dunia Sibomana-Rodriguez’s life story — so far — is known by much of, if not all of Long Beach. But now, it’s going to be known by many more people in many more places around the world.
Last year, Sibomana-Rodriguez won a New York State high school wrestling championship as an eighth grader at Long Beach Middle School. This year, as a freshman at Long Beach High School, he advanced to the semifinals where he finished in third place.
He didn’t go alone, though, ESPN came with him.
“They followed him for the high school qualifiers, the high school counties and then New York State Wrestling Championship,” said Miguel Rodriguez, Long Beach’s assistant wrestling coach, who officially adopted Sibomana-Rodriguez last year. “It helps all of us share in Dunia’s incredible journey so far.”
The ESPN feature, which aired on the television show ‘Sportscenter’ last week, helped show his journey so far, which began more than nine years ago when several wild chimpanzees attacked him and two family members as they played near Virunga National Park in the Congo, in Central Africa. His brother and cousin were killed, but Sibomana-Rodriguez, who was 6 at the time, survived, though he was left with life-altering facial injuries. His lips were torn off, his cheek was lacerated, and he suffered muscle damage that made it hard to swallow or talk.
He came to the United States in 2015, when he was 8, and underwent facial reconstruction surgery the next year at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital for the injuries. He has undergone more than a dozen surgeries for the reconstruction. Smile Rescue Fund for Kids, a nonprofit, helped make the surgeries happen for him.
He has lived with three host families since arriving in the United States. Before arriving here, he had never entered a school classroom or spoken English. His first host, Jennifer Crean, changed this and had him enrolled in a Hauppauge school shortly after his arrival.
After all the surgeries and perseverance thus far, he hasn’t slowed down. He was an honor roll student at the middle school — and a county champion — and he has much bigger plans for this future, all of which are shown in the ESPN feature.
“He has a great story that’s definitely inspirational and we hope that he motivates and inspires all kids,” Rodriguez said. “Despite what happens in life or how life might look, you can always turn life into something amazing. He works hard, he’s a good kid, he does the right thing and he’s a great brother.”
Sibomana-Rodriguez has plans to go back to his hometown when he’s older with the idea to help those less fortunate than him. He hopes to build homes and help bring in resources for kids and families to try and give them better lives as well.