PARK HILLS, Ky. -- Mannie Murrer braced for the worst when he heard his left thumb snap on the mat last winter.
The Covington Catholic standout had his hopes dashed early during his sophomore year after he landed awkwardly in a match against Boone County. He had been a state alternate his freshman season.
The anguish was palpable.
Murrer’s family thought he might miss a week. The diagnosis turned out to be four months. All the ligaments were found to be torn. It was his first serious injury.
“He just started to cry,” his father, Scott Murrer said. “It really broke my heart.”
Mannie, now a junior, was in a cast for three months, but it took closer to six months to fully heal. He roughed it out for a half-season in pole vault last spring but it wasn’t until early this past summer before he could return to the mat.
“Sometimes I almost felt depressed because I wasn’t able to do what I love and that is wrestling,” Mannie said. “It took a toll on me. I felt alone.”
Murrer, 17, looked back at that experience this week as he prepared for the state meet this weekend in Lexington. He knows he is stronger for going through it with the support of his family, coaches and teammates. And he demonstrated that this weekend, taking third place by winning four out of five matches.
In reality, the thumb injury paled in comparison to the adversity he experienced as a youngster growing up in Guatemala. He understands that.
Wrestling has a way of teaching toughness but also, most importantly, perseverance.
“I love the sport,” Murrer said. “It gets me through a lot sometimes. It means a lot to me because it’s a way of me just getting away from everything that has happened to me. It’s a way to clear my mind and taking everything out on the mat.”
Murrer this week was locked in on the state tournament. He was visualizing what he needed to do on the mat for a sport he so dearly loves. His speed and strength were assets as usual.
“He’s just a good kid,” CovCath Assistant Coach Terrence Demery said. “He responds to coaching really well.”
Murrer (138 pounds) and senior Jake Stegman (170) were the two state qualifiers for the CovCath wrestling program this week at Lexington's Alltech Arena. Two state qualifiers are the most the program has had in its five-year history.
Murrer, the CovCath career wins leader (85), swept his three matches Friday before losing Saturday's semifinal and winning the third-place match. Stegman won his first-round match but was eliminated after two straight losses.
CovCath Head Coach Alex Smith said Murrer's desire to succeed is relentless.
“It’s amazing what he can he do,” Smith said. “He’s one of those wrestlers that if he’s on his ‘A’ game I will put him against anyone in the state.”
Few at the state tournament have likely lived a life like Murrer's.
Adopted from Guatemala at the age of 10, Murrer has a maturity beyond his years because of his life experience.
Wrestling has been his outlet. It gives him a greater sense of purpose in a country that once seemed so foreign to him.
“I came from a really poor family in Guatemala,” Murrer said. “One day some lady saw that I was like getting hit by my (biological) parents and they brought me to this orphanage. I lived there for five years and then they moved me to a different orphanage for another five years.”
Murrer lived with another family before he was adopted by Scott and Cherie Murrer when he was 10. Scott and Cherie have their biological son, Sam, 21, a 2016 CovCath graduate who now plays offensive line at Miami University, along with Jose, a 16-year-old CovCath junior, and Santiago, a 14-year-old CovCath freshman. Jose and Santiago were also adopted from Guatemala.
Scott and Cherie and their three boys live in Union.
“They’ve been extremely supportive, really,” Mannie said. “They always keep me up when I am feeling low.”
Mannie, whose real name is Jose, took a while to feel comfortable with his adoptive family. Scott says it took 58 months to adopt him. Mannie didn’t speak a word of English when he joined his family.
“It’s kind of a miraculous journey, frankly,” Scott said.
Looking back, Mannie was glad to leave Guatemala but he was scared of change as a 10-year-old. He arrived in the U.S. as a fourth grader.
“Getting used to speaking a different language was just mind-boggling to me because I didn’t understand anybody,” Mannie said. “Sometimes when I came home from school I used to just go to my room and cry for hours because I didn’t know what to do.”
After some time he warmed up to his family. His brother played sports with him at home. He took delight in eating Skittles. A tutoring program proved successful in communication between Mannie and his family after about a year.
CovCath became home
One of the first moments he felt at home was watching a football game when Sam played at CovCath. Mannie started wrestling in sixth grade at Gray Middle School. He was a state qualifier as an eighth grader.
He soon found a home at CovCath. He played football as a freshman and took a liking to pole vault. He has a great deal of potential in pole vault this spring.
“I think he should be able to make it to state,” CovCath track and field coach Shawn Proffitt said. “Going from wrestling to pole vaulting -- we’re working on his gymnastics. We’re working on his upper body strength, his mobility and his turn.”
Still, wrestling is his passion. No one else in the family wrestles.
“It’s something that he owns by himself,” Scott Murrer said. “It’s completely his.”
Mannie has also started to think about college. He’d like attend New York University or Cornell because of his fascination with New York City. He’d also consider a military academy.
He would like to study medicine or neuroscience. His pursuit is very well-intentioned.
“The fact that I am helping someone and some day I could be the line between life and death -- that’s really exciting to me,” Mannie said.
His coaches have no doubt Mannie will succeed in whatever path he chooses.
“It’s nice to see him get the success that he’s earned,” Smith said. “He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. He’s been that way since his freshman year.”