Winning the battle of life
Their records might not indicate it, but Ezequiel Monzon and Bretten Coequyt might have fought the biggest fights on the Minneota wrestling team.
On May 7, 2019, Monzon, then a freshman, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Just seven months later, Bretten, then a seventh-grader, collapsed during wrestling practice from what physicians determined was a heart attack due to a birth defect.
Both have overcome their adversity and returned to grapple opponents for the Minneota wrestling team.
Monzon, a senior, and Coequyt, a sophomore, are well behind their teammates in terms of experience on the mat because of their setbacks, but both are looking to continually improve and are happy just being able to compete.
"Zeke and Bretten have been dealt a tough hand, there is no doubt, but you will never hear them complain or feel sorry for themselves," said Minneota co-coach Matt Myrvik. "We are excited to have them in our room and competing on our team."When you deal with a tough loss or maybe a bad week and you feel sorry for yourself or have self-doubt, you could not ask for a better reminder of what battling adversity and having grit is," Myrvik added. "They have battled some of the toughest competition there is, and it is not on the mat. Both have given us everything they have. The experience may not be there but their toughness and drive to do their best for the team is. We are so proud of them and their attitudes and work ethic will carry them a long way in life."
Monzon, the son of Julio and Nyomie Monzon of Ghent, eventually was declared cancer-free eight months after being diagnosed and filled in for three varsity matches during the 2019-20 regular season.
When a teammate moved up a weight for the individual Section 3A tournament in Canby that season, the Vikings had a hole at 120 pounds and Monzon was inserted into the lineup. Admittedly not 100 percent in terms of stamina, Monzon performed above and beyond what coaches expected. Although he won only one of his three matches, all three of his section opponents ended up on the medal stand.
Coaches and teammates anticipated a healthy Monzon being a part of the team his junior year. But after having a routine cancer check in Sioux Falls in the fall of 2020, Monzon received news that the cancer had returned. He missed his sophomore wrestling season while battling cancer again, and was unable to wrestle his junior season last year due to having a portal inserted.
He returned this season and has been a regular in the lineup at 132 pounds, currently sporting a 7-14 record.
"I missed being with my teammates and cheering them on as part of the team," said Monzon. "It was so hard just watching. It's been fun being able to sit alongside of them this year."
Monzon's goal is to continue to get better so he can help the team reach the state tournament.
"I'm still behind other wrestlers who have a lot more experience than I do, but I am happy that I've been able to wrestle all season," admitted Monzon, who is Minneota's male AAA nominee for Arts, Academics and Athletics. "When I look at where I was at the beginning of the year, I have improved a lot. But I'm still learning every day and doing my best to try and get better each day so I can help the team."
As far as an individual accomplishment this season, Monzon lists finishing fifth at the Alexandria Invitational where he was able to get on the medal stand.
"That meant a lot to me," he said. "My goal now is to medal at the section tournament."
Coequyt, the son of Matt and Emily Coequyt, has wrestled mainly on the JV team this season, going 6-8, although he has been used to fill in on the varsity a few times this year and has a 1-2 record.
"I just want to help the team in any way I can," said Coequyt, who also missed two years of wrestling while dealing with his heart defect.
Like Monzon, Coequyt is not only fortunate to be able to wrestle again, he is fortunate to be alive.
On Dec. 18, 2019, Coequyt, then just 12 years old, underwent a 10-hour, open-heart surgery at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital.
The surgeon came out midway through the surgery to inform his parents that their son had flat-lined twice on the operating table. He was diagnosed as having Ventricular Fibrillation, a life-threatening heart rhythm that results in a rapid, inadequate heartbeat.
The parents agreed to allow surgeons to place an internal defibrillator, which took an additional five hours of surgery.
After his first match back on the JV team last season, Coequyt said he passed out briefly and trainers and coaches quickly came to his aid. Coequyt's parents were on vacation at the time and received the news over the phone from coach Matt Myrvik, who didn't want Bretten to be alone at home so arrangements were made for him to stay at his aunt and uncle's home.
"Doctors tweaked his medications and he hasn't had any issues at all this year," said his mother.
Bretten sleeps with a wireless heart monitor that stores information on his heart. Each week, the information is sent to his cardiologist in Sioux Falls. He will continue that monitoring system for the rest of his life.
Bretten admitted that he was a little apprehensive when he returned to wrestling last year.
"I thought about (his medical journey) last year when I wrestled," he said. "I really don't think about it now too much, though. My mom was more scared about it than I was."
Bretten weighed under 100 pounds wrestling on the JV team a season ago, but gained 25 pounds the past year and now wrestles at 120.
"He's not a big kid, but he's got a big heart," said Emily.