Line applied wrestling lessons to cancer battle

Leading up to the InterMat JJ Classic, a premier preseason high school wrestling tournament that takes place this Saturday in Minnesota and serves as fundraising event for a cancer support center, InterMat will be releasing stories about people in wrestling who have been affected by cancer. Registration for the InterMat JJ Classic is open through Friday at 8 p.m. CDT.

Torrey Line watched this year's NCAA tournament with a different perspective than most fans.

He is a 22-year-old former wrestler who with no sense of bravado or irony can scroll through the NCAA brackets and say, "Yeah, I beat him ... and him ... whelp, him, too."

Torrey Line
Line's affirmations are not that of a local hero cushioning his post-high school fall from greatness. He is a cancer survivor knocked from the highest rungs of the sport in his prime.

Line, from Browerville, Minn., was an undefeated elementary school wrestler, which in states like Arizona or Florida might seem trivial, but in the wrestling-centric Midwest is rare and indicative of future potential.

"I told his dad that I thought he would be a state and national champion," says Eric Anderson, who was then an assistant coach for the local wrestling club. "He had so much natural talent and confidence. I just knew that he was going to be great."

Anderson was right. In Line's first two years of high school he was turning into one of Minnesota's great wrestlers. After his sophomore season, Line won a Cadet National folkstyle title and then traveled to Fargo to compete at Cadet Nationals in Greco-Roman and freestyle.

Line won the Greco-Roman tournament in dominant fashion and then turned his talents towards freestyle. Like with Greco-Roman, Line was cruising through the tournament when in on a massive double leg against Kirk Smith of Idaho, Line shattered his nose. Line won the match but was sent to the emergency room to get his schnoz reset He was back in time for the semifinals, but dropped a close decision and narrowly missed an opportunity to become one of only a handful of USA Wrestling Cadet Triple Crown winners from Minnesota.

Torrey Line was an undefeated state champion as a junior (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
The next high school season it was more domination from Line, who earned bonus points through the state tournament and immediately began practicing with the Minnesota Storm for the summer tournaments.

"He wasn't the same in practice," says Anderson. "He was complaining about his knee a lot and we kind of thought he might have done something to his meniscus."

The pair agreed to get it checked out after Fargo. However, Fargo proved to be disappointing, with Line failing to place. The knee, Anderson says, was still an issue.

With some time off Line's knee began to feel better when he got home so he decided to put on the pads and play football.

"I never thought it was going to be dangerous," says Line. "I just wanted to play and my knee was feeling better. If anything I was disappointed with my Fargo performance."

A few days after football practice started Line suffered a bad hit to his leg and had to see the team doctor. Initial reports were that he had suffered a torn ACL, an absolutely crushing injury for any athlete hoping to gain a scholarship in his senior year. Line's parents took him to the doctor where the news was decidedly worse.

Torrey Line owned wins in freestyle and Greco-Roman over several wrestlers who went on to college greatness, including Jon Reader (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Line had a tennis ball-sized tumor stuck inside the lower head of his femur, just above his knee. The cancer, osteogenic sarcoma, is extremely rare, but curable when found in the early stages. Line was optimistic, and also a little relieved.

"You could tell he was happy to have some sort of an explanation for his Fargo performance," says Anderson. "I mean it's kind of weird to say, but it did kind of verify that he didn't just all of a sudden lose it," says Anderson.

The doctors recommended that Line immediately undergo the removal of the bottom six inches of his femur as well as a total knee replacement. After the surgery they would start him on chemotherapy in case any cancer cells were living outside of the bone.

"The scary thing was that the doctors told me the cancer would have spread if I had broken my leg and because of the cancer the risk of breaking my leg was increased," says Line. "The cancer would have spread all over my body."

The leg didn't break and the cancer did not spread. The 170-pound Line had to endure chemotherapy, which chemically attacks possibly cancerous cells as well as perfectly healthy cells, making those who undergo treatment lose weight and generally feel miserable.

"My low point was in February as the sectional and state tournaments were firing up," says Line. "My weight was down to 135 pounds and I didn't want to eat anything. I just felt like crap all day long."

Torrey Line T-shirt
But in that moment of drawn-out malaise and downcast spirit, Line was able to find a pleasure in the sight of wrestling. Line attended some meets and was greeted at his home by dozens of visitors and hundreds of letters.

"Whenever I felt my worst it seemed that I would look around and the wrestling community would be there by my side," says Line. "It's something I don't think I would have gotten in any other sport."

The Minnesota wrestling community also came to the financial support of the Line family. Minnesota/USA Wrestling Junior Director Chris Willaert put together a T-shirt drive where all the proceeds sold from that year's tournament T-shirt sales went to offset the cost of Line's treatment.

Line eventually began his physical therapy, learning how to walk with a new midsection to his left leg. He started taking classes at the University of Minnesota where he was listed on the roster and received money for books as part of a wrestling scholarship given to him by Minnesota head wrestling coach J Robinson.

"I always dreamed of wrestling in college, and even after my cancer I wanted to compete," says Line. "But by my sophomore season I kind of knew that I would never be cleared. J Rob came up to me one day and said as much so I hung up the dream. It was tough, but I could only do so much on the leg."

Torrey Line (Photo/Jeff Beshey, The Guillotine)
Line could no longer compete, but he decided he wanted to start coaching and gave his friend Eric Anderson a call. Anderson serves as the head wrestling coach at Fridley High School, located just outside Minneapolis.

"Torrey comes in and coaches the guys and they learn a lot about wrestling from his knowledge," says Anderson. "Sometimes I try to tell these kids just how good Torrey was and that he also beat cancer, but as a kid it's tough to grasp those battles."

Line is now a fifth-year senior at the University of Minnesota where he is double majoring in business and marketing education and human resource development. He is currently in his last semester of classes with only a semester internship in an HR department left to complete his degree requirements.

"I'll never forget what the wrestling community did for me in support, but also in the lessons I learned before I got sick and how I applied them to beating cancer," says Line. "I knew that I was going to beat cancer. There was never any doubt about that. As a wrestler you learn to deal with an opponent and the stress of competition and I always knew I was going to win."

This story also appears in the Oct. 14 issue of The Guillotine. The Guillotine has been covering amateur wrestling in Minnesota since 1971. Its mission is to report and promote amateur wrestling at all levels -- from youth and high school wrestling to college and international level wrestling. Subscribe to The Guillotine.


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