Every year, Colton Roberts would ask his parents if he could wrestle again. Every year, the answer was no.
Tambra and Trever Roberts could have lost the Nebraska City senior in seventh grade when his heart stopped at a meet. He was shocked three times to get it beating again and underwent emergency surgery.
Doctors said no more baseball, football or wrestling. He had a heart disease and had to learn to live in a world of defibrillators, pacemakers and six-month checkups.
Roberts never lost his passion for wrestling, a sport he began in third grade. He became a team manager in high school, but it was hard to see the same kids he used to beat doing so well. He wanted to be part of the action.
“I just kept bugging them,” Colton said.
This year, his final shot, he got a different answer.
Roberts' parents said yes, if his doctor agreed.
“My belief is when it's your time, it's your time,” Tambra Roberts said. “I can't control that part of life. I just wanted to see him do something that he loves.”
Unexpectedly, Dr. Christopher Erickson at Children's Hospital said OK, as long as Colton knew his limits, ate correctly and took his medication. He had to watch out for small shocks from his defibrillator, letting him know something was wrong.
His mom reluctantly brought him the news at his part-time job at Subway. She had hoped the doctor would say no.
There were lots of talks with Tyler Hodges, the Nebraska City wrestling coach, and other officials in the school district. His parents had to sign a waiver saying they wouldn't hold the school liable if something happened.
When the season started, there was Roberts, back on the mat where he belonged. It was tough — five years away from the sport isn't easy to overcome. He was often tired and sore, but his heart was happy.
He made the junior varsity, lost his first match and then won the second. What happened back in seventh grade was never far from his thoughts.
“It felt good, but I was still really nervous about it for a couple of matches,” he said.
It was worse for his parents. They were a wreck during every match, even as Colton excelled, piling up a 19-9 record at 152 or 160 pounds.
Tambra Roberts said she bit her fingernails and sometimes wanted to sit down and cry, asking herself, 'Why did I let him do it?'
“It was a very tough decision as a parent,” she said. “A lot of people questioned it and a lot of people understood. He's happy. I'm happy for him. He has done great.”
Roberts and his parents now have a whole new reason to be nervous, in a good way.
With an opening at 170 pounds, Colton has jumped up to varsity for the first time, just in time for districts on Friday in Syracuse. He'll be wrestling Chance Helmick of Beatrice, a defending state champion with a 33-0 record.
“It was my goal throughout the year, just to make varsity,” Roberts said.
He's worried about getting pinned by Helmick, but that hasn't stopped him from now dreaming of making it to state. His mom said if he sets his mind to it, he can do it.
He just has to play to his strengths. Hodges expects Roberts to go out Friday and do what the Pioneers do.
“He's competed a lot this year, and he's ready,” Hodges said. “One match at a time, that's what we preach to all of our kids about the district meet.”
Roberts hasn't had a single health scare this season. He feels so good he's even talking about baseball or track this spring. Or maybe he'll just pick up more hours at his job.
First, he has some unfinished business on Friday.
“I'm going to go out there,” he said, “and try to win.”