MIAMI, Fla. — “It ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” - Rocky Balboa
Benjamin Kunzle, a 23-year-old professional fighter from Miami, top-ranked in the world and a brown belt in Brazilian Ju Jitsu was on his way to the world championships when things took a turn.
During a practice a few months back, he was grappling with his opponent and suddenly there was a ‘pop’ that changed everything.
“I remember I was fighting and I went to throw my friend and he fell on my neck and I felt a pop on my neck and I dropped to the floor and screamed ‘AH!’ as hard as I could and my body couldn’t work anymore,” said Kunzle.
At that moment, Kunzle became paralyzed.
Doctors had to perform emergency surgery after his neck dislocated and snapped.
“As time goes by I can move more and more. I can’t move my legs or fingers too much yet but my core is moving and we are getting places.” Kunzle said.
Things are more difficult for Kunzle now, however, it does not stop him from making it to his daily boxing practices.
Kunzle trains around four times a day with special exercises to get his blood flowing and muscles moving again.
“I used to think that I trained so much because I loved Ju Jitsu and it’s what I do. But as time went by and I wasn’t walking, I realized this isn't going to be as quick as I thought.” Kunzle said that he contemplated if he had peaked at 23 years old.
“Then it hit me. In Ju Jitsu, whenever you get promoted to a new belt there is a gauntlet that represents all the pain and suffering we had to go through.” He said that there are two ways of getting through the gauntlet before a new belt promotion.
‘You can run, but if you run everyone is going to hit you really hard and when you get back the professor is going to make you run back two or three more times till it’s done correctly, or you can put your chest up, walk down with the best attitude ever… And that is what I am trying to do now.” Kunzle said.
What has helped Kunzle stay so motivated and strong during this time is having gratitude and so many supportive family and friends.
“At the end of the day, you just have to be thankful and grateful for what you have,” Kunzle said.
The doctors told Kunzle there was a 50/50 chance he would get anything back after the surgery…
“I wasn’t supposed to be able to move my triceps but here they are moving,” Kunzle said.
Family, friends, and teammates from his training facility at Fight Sports Miami came together as a community to support Kunzle.
“Something that has really stood out to me in these past few months is seeing a community come together – it’s such a beautiful thing. I never would’ve imagined this much support from everybody,” said Kunzle.
To help Kunzle on his journey to recovery there is a GoFund link here.
After being hospitalized for over a month, and having to buy a new electrical wheelchair, and van, costs add up quickly. With more surgeries and muscle therapy sessions on the way, Kunzle said anything helps.
For those who cannot donate but want to help, you can share his storyhere.
“Thank you all for the support, he’s going to make it like he’s always done it. With every challenge he goes after it and makes it to the top,” said Kunzle’s mother Tania Wilson.
Despite the challenges of this accident Kunzle is determined to face it head on, work hard every day and come out stronger than ever.