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Pritzlaff offers encouragement to New Jersey high school wrestler with health problems



USA freestyle wrestler Donny Pritzlaff shows his tough side on the mat when competing. But off the mat, that toughness isn't the only thing that shows. The 2006 World Bronze Medalist demonstrated his compassionate side when he visited a high school wrestler, two days before Christmas, who was having health problems.

Chris Lombard, a 16-year-old from Bloomfield, N.J., had acute liver failure after wrestling his freshman year. His father, Jim, donated 60 percent of his liver to save his son's life.

"Wrestling was his life," said Pritzlaff.

Jim Lombard said his son Chris defined himself as an athlete and lived to be a champion.

Chris Lombard started on the varsity team as a freshman at St. Mary's High School. Jim Lombard said he was a very accomplished athlete by the start of his high school career. Chris had 28 wins in his freshman season and placed in the top six of the BBCA (Bergen County Coaches Association) tournament, a highly competitive tournament in New Jersey.

Bruce Dobin, a business associate with Jim Lombard, contacted USA Wrestling to see if a wrestler could visit Chris over the holidays. Dobin said he wanted to help boost Chris' morale after complications from the surgery.

At a days notice, Pritzlaff, who was visiting family in New Jersey, volunteered to visit upon a request by USA Wrestling.

"I thought I would try to do anything to boost his spirit," said Pritzlaff. "I don't know if I did anything at all, but it is the responsibility of elite athletes to encourage kids. It was a no brainer to go see him; I'd do anything to help make him smile."

And encourage Chris is what Pritzlaff did.

"Donny stopped by and hung out with Chris," said Jim. "He spoke positive words and lifted his spirit."

Pritzlaff said talking to Chris about the skills learned in wrestling, such as sacrifice and commitment could easily be transferred to other areas of his life.

Pritzlaff also encouraged Lombard to remember his identity wasn't taken away just because he couldn't wrestle.

"You have to take away the good from the situation and apply aspects of wrestling to other parts of his life," Pritzlaff said.

Pritzlaff and Chris had more in common that just the sport. They both were coached in high school by Scott Weaver.

Doctors have given Chris the OK to participate in most physical activity, but are unsure if he will ever be able to wrestle again. Jim said Chris has taken up skateboarding, playing the guitar and just trying to be a normal teenager.

The Lombard family has been heavily involved with wrestling. As a child, Jim wrestled and is now coaching. Jim Lombard said the visit for Pritzlaff meant a lot to him and to his family.

"Donny is a wonderful man," Jim Lombard said. "He spent time with Chris and said positive words and lifted his spirit. It was pretty cool to have a guy of his caliber to come see us."

Talking with Chris made Pritzlaff recognize how fortunate his life has been. Pritzlaff said he has not experienced any major health problems like Lombard.

Jim Lombard said it was comforting to know the wrestling community on the national level holds high regards for his son.

"USA Wrestling has been so supportive from the local to national level," said Jim. "When the chips are down, a lot of support has been given from the wrestling community. I can't say enough nice things about Donny. As a dad it is a goal in life to make children to be good people, have good values and do good things. Donny is a really special person."
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