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Wrestling family steps in after fire

– Tears that welled in Brandon Madera’s eyes weren’t caused by the harsh reality that, just a few days ago, he lost all his worldly possessions.

The emotion had everything to do with the way he and his family have been embraced since misfortune struck.

“God gives his best warriors the biggest challenge,” Brandon said, his cheeks flushed. “I try not to focus on myself.”

Last Saturday, the wrestler for Mishawaka High School was doing well against a loaded field in the Al Smith Invitational at Mishawaka. As the afternoon wore on, he was in position to wrestle for third place when he got one call. Then another.

“I had my phone in my hand (between matches) because I was texting friends and relatives about how I was doing,” Madera said. “I got a call from a friend who lived near me (on Providence Court) who said it looked like there was a fire at my house. Then, I got another call from another friend who said my house was on fire.”

Brandon’s mother, Tina, who he described as “wrestling’s biggest fan,” had been at the two-day event. She had left the event to take his brothers – 14-year-old twins Cody and Correy – home from a basketball game. She had planned to return for his consolation-round match. Tina hadn’t arrived yet.

He tried calling his mother when he heard about the fire, but there was no answer.

“I figured something bad had happened,” Brandon said. “I tried to keep my composure, but I failed.”

Charlie Cornett, in his first year as the Mishawaka head coach, was busy watching a match when Brandon, tears rolling down his cheeks, approached him.

“When I saw Brandon crying, I knew something was wrong,” Cornett said. “My heart dropped.”

Brandon was devastated at the prospect of forfeiting his bid for third place, but this was family.

“I had to forfeit my match,” Brandon said. “Just saying that now still pains me a lot. I let down my coaches and my team. But, it was something I had to do.”

No argument. From anyone. Cornett’s mission was to get him home as fast as possible. Before there was an opportunity to find someone to drive Brandon, he bolted out the door. By the time he got home, the house was a loss, but his family was safe. Even the three dogs in the backyard were OK.

His mother had left her cellphone in the car when she came home to a burning house, which is why she didn’t answer Brandon’s call.

“I was in shock,” Brandon said. “In the blink of an eye, everything can be taken away from you. I’ve always understood that everything happens for a reason.”

At that moment, focused on the charred remains, that reason wasn’t clear. His dad, Ernesto, who had been working in South Bend, had arrived. His mother, brother Jordan, 15, and the twins shared the disbelief.

“Everyone handled it differently,” Brandon said. “My dad went in the house and looked around. My mom was crying. The twins, all they worried about was their X-box.

“I went in with my dad. My room was gone. Everything I had, gone. I had my medals and a Mexican flag on the wall. The wall was gone, so was everything else.”

Life changed that day for Brandon and his family – but not necessarily for the worse.

The wrestling community wouldn’t let the Maderas take the next step alone. Insurance has put them up in two rooms in an extended-stay hotel until details can be cleared up. Sharon Forte, president of the Mishawaka Wrestling Club for the last 10 years, has gotten the word out far and wide that an athlete and his family are in need.

“That’s just the way the Mishawaka program works,” Forte said. “We welcome all into our family – whether they’ve been here for 10 years or five months.”

Already, club members have filled several SUVs with clothes and other items for day-to-day use. Gift cards and cash have also been donated. Wrestling programs at other high schools in the area have provided support. A wrestling official from the Fort Wayne area, who wanted to remain anonymous, sent a generous check.

That’s what Brandon’s tears are about now.

“It’s very humbling,” Brandon said. “We can’t change the past. Even though everything has been taken away, you don’t sit and whine about it. You move on. That’s what moves us.”

This has been an opportunity for growth. Brandon has learned a lesson that goes beyond the mat.

“When I get on the mat, the last thing I want to do is help an opponent. My whole focus is to put him down,” he said.

“In one moment, that all changes. You get off the mat, and you understand the compassion people have. It doesn’t matter that you’re on another team. We all love the sport and we’re all ready to help whenever we can.”

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