Jebah Doe’s first wrestling practice was done under duress. A friend had stolen his backpack and insisted the only way he could get it back was to show up.
Doe went to practice and hated it. He decided he wouldn’t come back.
His friend pulled the same trick the next day.
More than three years later, the Maple Grove senior, who overcame being shot in the summer before eighth grade, looks poised to make a run at his second trip to the Class 3A state tournament in as many years.
Doe is 23-11 with one match left in the regular season. With another year of experience, he seems better equipped for postseason success than last year, when he won his section but dropped all of his matches at state, both in individual and team competition.
“[Last year], I was looking around, just trying to enjoy the moment and I think I got carried away because then when it came to wrestling time, I was still thinking about what was around me … and not the actual match,” Doe said.
This season he’s wrestled at anywhere from 160 to 195 pounds, though coach Troy Seubert said he’s typically been competing around 182 pounds.
Many of his losses came from getting bumped up a weight class or two to help the team, Seubert said.
“He knows that he can beat the kid in his own weight class and yet he goes up and wrestles a tough match [and] maybe loses, but it’s better for Maple Grove wrestling than it is for Jebah and he’s happy with that,” Seubert said.
His wrestling successes would not have been possible without him rebuilding his life after getting shot.
“I had to get away from gang violence and stuff like that,” he said.
The shooting occurred at a house in Brooklyn Park, Doe said, where a fight broke out involving a friend. Doe said he was in “the wrong place at the wrong time” and was struck by a bullet.
Doe was in the hospital for a week before returning home and resting for a week. A bullet fragment remains in his back. After a recovery of about six months, he was able to join the track team the following spring.
During eighth grade, he met Clark Wieneke at school and the next year, he gradually moved in with his family.
According to Clark’s mother, Susan, Doe’s mother called in February of Doe’s freshman year to say that she was moving and asked if her son could live with them for a while.
After a few months, Susan Wieneke said, it became apparent that Doe was there to stay.
To help him out with his school and in case of medical emergencies, the Wienekes, Doe and his mother signed legal guardianship papers that June.
“Everybody was agreeing that this was probably going to be the best situation for him,” Susan Wieneke said.
The move helped transform Doe’s life.
“We gave him a lot of new opportunities. We do a lot of things [he’s] done for his first time ever, and it’s just cool to see how he reacts in those situations,” Clark Wieneke said.
It was a big change, and it didn’t come easily at first.
“I still had second thoughts where it’s like ‘Should I go back? Do I miss my friends?’ … And then something just always clicked into me, ‘If you stay here, this will be a good opportunity for you. It’ll open the doors up for you later down the road,’ ” Doe said.
Sports, too, have given him a positive way to channel his energy.
“Sports have potentially, literally been a lifesaver for Jebah,” Seubert said.
Doe played football in elementary school and returned to it his freshman year after his recovery.
He’s now a three-sport athlete who also participates as a sprinter on the track team. But running, by his own admission, is not his favorite activity.
“I just do it because I [have] nothing to do. … I don’t want to go back to what I used to be doing. … So I’m going to do something to keep me busy that motivates me to keep getting better,” he said.
His athletic ability has drawn people to notice him and reach out to him, Seubert said.
“I’ve seen Jebah really grow as a person because of his participation in athletics,” he said.
Betsy Helfand is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the StarTribune.