DES MOINES -- Inside the wrestling room at Lincoln, Leo Blawou and Mamadee Tullay set their sights on the state tournament.
“Wrestling is not a sport,” said Tullay. “It’s here to teach young men and women how to become better people in life.”
Dee and Leo could be the teachers.
“Where we lived before we came here, it wasn’t really a safe place,” said Blawou.
Both came to the United States as refugees from war-torn Liberia. Leo was three years old when he moved- first to Detroit, and then to Des Moines when he was in third grade. Dee’s family fled Africa for Rochester, New York, before settling in the Capital City.
But the similarities don’t end there. Dee’s father was killed in the second Liberian Civil War, in the early 2000s. Dee was just a baby.
“They shot at him and he died trying to save us and trying to have us escape,” said Tullay.
Leo lost his father in a car crash in Detroit at age nine.
“I really didn’t understand it,” said Blawou. “I really didn’t break down and cry right away. It took a little while. I was just standing there and I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there for a while.”
Through life’s struggles, they found wrestling, and each other.
“We’re both from the same country,” said Tullay. “He understands me, I understand him. He knows when I’m mad. I know when he’s mad. He’s like a little brother that I wanted.
''I can go to Dee, and we can get in the car and just go somewhere for hours,” said Blawou. “He’s like an older brother. He’s an older brother I can go to for things, and he just understands.”
Their term is brothers. Their coach calls them something else.
“What is a warrior? A warrior is someone that overcomes things, and fights through things and adversity,” said head coach Dustin Roland. “You couldn’t pick two more on our team that have overcome more in life, than what those two have.”
Which will only help them at the state tournament this weekend.