Levi Drueke's journey from re-learning to walk to state wrestling champion
NELIGH, Neb. -- In sixth grade, an ordinary basketball practice began the start of a nightmare for Levi Drueke.
Shooting pains up his legs and a loss of feeling in his feet, which advanced up to his waist, led to a frantic visit to the chiropractor. Upon being seen, Drueke and his family were quickly pointed towards the emergency room.
After an MRI, his family received the diagnosis, Idiopathic Transverse Myelitis. Levi would spend the next night in the ICU, and a week paralyzed from the waist down at the children’s hospital in Omaha.
The doctors weren’t sure what Drueke’s road to recovery looked like. It was uncertain whether a full recovery was possible, or if he would ever be able to participate in sports again.
He was transferred to Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, where he spent the next four weeks reteaching his body everything from walking to sitting down in a chair.
"They taught me how to adjust my life to being in a wheelchair," he said. "I remember just sitting down and standing up in a chair."
Barbie Jackson, Levi’s mother said his smile and positivity radiated through all the rough days and hardships.
"I don't know anybody more positive than Levi," she said. "His smile is what kept everybody [thinking] 'this is going to be okay.'"
Within a year of the diagnosis, Drueke worked up his strength to begin participating in sports once again. baseball came first followed by football, and then wrestling the following year.
In high school, Drueke wrestled for O’Neill his first three seasons, before transferring to Neligh-Oakdale for his senior year. He reached state twice with O’Neill, going 1-2 in his sophomore effort, and falling in the heartbreak rounds, one win shy of the podium in his junior year.
But he remained focused, the losses never deterred Drueke from his ultimate target.
After setting his goals at the beginning of high school, he began writing them on sticky notes and pasting them to his bathroom mirror. Those notes he says, helped remind him of his target every morning.
"You get up and you look at something like that, you look at your goals" he said. "'State champion,' and next to it says 'Jesus loves you, state champion.'"
After adjusting from the end of football season for his senior wrestling campaign, the wins and momentum began piling on, and a path towards the top of the podium came within reach.
At the state tournament, Drueke entered as the top seed of the Class D 160 lb. weight class with a 46-4 season record.
As the final seconds ticked down on the championship match, with the scoreboard 11-2 in Drueke’s favor, the emotions, and the weight of the moment began to set in.
"A dream that I've had since I was watching state championships in the living room with my dad," he said. "I envisioned it."
After winning, he immediately pointed to his legs. The legs he, just a few years earlier had no control of, the legs he wasn’t sure he would be ever fully capable of using again. It was those legs, that he used to walk towards this moment and to the top of the podium.
"That was his way of telling the world 'I didn't let this defeat me, look at me I did it,'" Jackson said. "He went from not being able to walk to winning a state title, and that's just phenomenal."
"I did it, I beat it. I just accomplished everything I'd ever wanted to accomplish," Drueke said.