Wrestling: Breuer wrestles with a heavy heartIn 17 months, Mitchell Breuer’s life changed with the death of his brother and father. Through it all, the Goodhue senior has persevered in his home life and on the wrestling mat
By: Joe Brown, The Republican Eagle
Mitchell Breuer wrestles two different types of matches.
On the mat, he is a standout middleweight for the Goodhue wrestling team, working his way up to a 114-59 record and a state berth last season as a junior in a varsity career that started in seventh grade.
Internally, Breuer wrestles with grief, sorrow and the memories of a brother and father who were gone much too soon. On Feb. 22, 2007, Bryce Breuer, 8, died of leukemia. Then nearly 18 months later, on July 19, 2008, Tim Breuer, 37, died suddenly from a brain aneurysm.
“I know the two forces driving him apart,” said Goodhue wrestling coach Josh Grant. “On one hand, he’s tried to funnel a lot of his grief into wrestling for his father. And then the other time, wrestling brings back so many memories, positive good memories, that it becomes a struggle.”
Through the pain of loss, Mitchell had to grow up fast and become the strong presence that his mother and four younger brothers need.
“(The two deaths) shaped a bunch of my personality and what I am now,” Mitchell said. “I’m more relaxed now, just calmed down, trying to keep everyone from fighting. Maybe that’s how I’ve always been.”
Said Logan Breuer, Mitchell’s younger brother and a sophomore on the Goodhue wrestling team, “Mitch just seems like he’s a lot more mature, but he also knows when he can let loose and have fun. He can recognize situations better and knows how to react.
“You see a lot of kids his age and they’re into bad stuff, and Mitch is really good about it. He doesn’t get as overwhelmed as other people.”
Setting an example
On May 19, 2003, the Breuer family received the news: Bryce, the family’s third child, had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The diagnosis came the day after Bryce’s fifth birthday.
Mitchell and Logan recall an eager child who followed in his brothers’ footsteps.
“He, for sure, would have been another wrestler,” Mitchell said. “He liked to tag along with us; stuff like that.”
As the Breuer family was getting blood tests to see if there were any matches for Bryce, Mitchell — at 11 years old — already had it in his mind that he would be the one to help.
“He actually said, when they all had their blood drawn, ‘I hope I’m the one who’s the exact match because it should be me going through it instead of the other brothers,’” said Susie Matthees, Mitchell’s mother. “Then, when we found out a week later that he was the match, he got a big smile. It was like he knew that it was going to be him.”
Bryce and Mitchell had two operations: a bone marrow transplant and a donor lymphocyte infusion, which involves separating healthy T-cells from a donor’s blood. As his younger brother was suffering, Mitchell made the effort to see Bryce at the hospital as much as he could.
“Mitchell would always try and get to the hospital the most,” Susie said. “A lot of times, Logan came along, too.”
Mitchell added, “For a while, I tried to get out every Tuesday to go and see him.”
But Bryce was not showing progress in his recovery and was fading away. In the last week of his life, Bryce stayed at the family’s home outside of Goodhue.
“Family was over a lot, just hanging out with our family, trying to distract you from what’s really going on, which didn’t work,” Mitchell said. “The last thing I remember is sitting down in the living room, then Dad came running down the stairs and grabbed all of us boys and brought us upstairs, after (Bryce) had taken his last breath.”
Mitchell said he found a strong figure to emulate in his little brother.
“I’d say Bryce was stronger than a lot of adults, just because he had gone through so much and kept a good attitude the whole way through,” Mitchell said. “He just was the unlucky one. Dad always said that there are people that can drink and smoke all the time and they’re fine, but why does this have to happen to him? He’s just a nice little kid.”
After Bryce’s passing, then-Wildcats head wrestling coach Bill Sutter renamed the home youth wrestling tournament the Bryce Breuer Memorial Tournament.
Over a year later, the tournament was renamed again to the Tim and Bryce Breuer Memorial Tournament.
Still reeling from Bryce’s death, the Breuer family came home on a July night after picking up Susie from the airport following a work conference in Dallas.
Five minutes after they got home, as the boys were outside prepping a bonfire, the scene became frantic inside the house as Tim collapsed inexplicably.
As Susie performed CPR on her husband, the boys were unaware until Mitchell saw the lights of the ambulance off the windows of the family’s camper outside.
“I kept telling all the adults, the first responders, to go check on the boys,” Susie said.
Mitchell, age 13, remembered having to handle his brothers as chaos ensued.
“I was trying to keep Ethan (the youngest Breuer boy) under control. I wasn’t crying at that point,” Mitchell said. “Our neighbor came out and called me and my brothers to come over. That’s when I started crying.”
Then Susie had to break the tragic news: Tim had died.
“At that point, they thought it was a heart attack,” Mitchell said.
“They all screamed, ‘No!’” Susie said. “The difference with Bryce is we all got to have time with him, and we hoped and prayed that he’d beat the leukemia, but he just kept getting worse. With Tim, we were home 20 minutes and he collapsed and was gone instantly.”
Though grief-stricken, Susie gave her oldest son some advice.
“I remember saying to him the night that Tim died, ‘I know you’re going to want to step up to the plate and try to be the man of the house. But I know your dad would say to be who you are and be 13. Help your mom out, but don’t try to grow up too fast,’” Susie said.
“Tim was such a wise, wise man, and a committed and devoted father. These boys had already experienced so much with 17 months between deaths.”
Mitchell picked up the slack wherever he could around the house.
“He tried to do the things that Tim did,” Susie said. “As I learned how to start doing those things, we kind of became a team. But then, he’s also teaching his brothers, too.”
On the family’s farmland, Mitchell became the right-hand man for his grandpa, helping grow cash crops during the spring and fall. Mitchell already had learned some things from his dad, like how to drive a tractor.
“Every weekend I was out there, because if you’re down a guy, you can’t operate,” Mitchell said.
Logan chimed in, “Inefficiencies kill a small business.”
Looking to continue helping the family after high school, Mitchell has been accepted at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, where he plans on majoring in ag engineering or ag management.
Wrestling was always a uniting factor in the Breuer household. The garage was filled with wrestling mats, and Tim had hoped to become an assistant coach at Goodhue, his alma mater.
“One of the things about Tim is that he loved having five boys,” Susie said. “And with the ages they were at, he always said, ‘We’re going to have four boys on varsity, since Mitch will be a senior and Joel will be a seventh-grader.’ That was his goal, to get all four of them on varsity.”
But without his dad, the sport became a burden during the early part of every season for Mitchell. He struggled to find the drive to cut weight and to practice.
“There have been plenty of times that since you don’t have Dad around that you think, ‘I could just quit. That’s fine. No one will say I should stay with it,’” Mitchell said. “But really, there are countless, countless people around that want you to stick with it.”
Every match, Mitchell wrestles for his brother and especially his dad. His younger brothers are wired the same way, but they say the tragedies affected Mitchell the most.
“It’s different for me, because Mitch had that (seventh-grade) year with Dad,” Logan said. “I was just in fifth grade, but I still try and do it for them and make Dad proud.”
In five years of coaching Mitchell, Grant recalls several times where he was struggling. But with a devoted family behind him, Mitchell was always able to pull out of his funks.
“I don’t think I could have done it without his mother and the family that’s behind Mitchell,” Grant said. “There’s been plenty of conversations where I could see Mitchell spiraling emotionally in practice, almost to the point of shutting down, losing his passion for the sport, because of those emotions coming back. … In the end, he’s the one that keeps sticking it out.”
Since October 2011, the Breuer boys have had a new face in the house: their stepfather Ross Matthees. He and Susie are expecting their first child together in May.
Once he met the family, Ross said he saw a group of boys who were mature beyond their years.
What also helped them bond was wrestling. Ross was a grappler at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School. After helping out with the elementary school team, Ross is now an assistant coach for the Goodhue varsity and junior varsity, where he works with Mitchell, Logan and Joel.
“It’s really good just to get that pat on the back by him after every match,” Mitchell said.
Logan added, “You can always have somebody to talk to. If you lose a close match or you go through something tough with wrestling, I can come home and talk to him.”
Having that support – from home, from Goodhue, from the wrestling community – has continued to be a motivator for the Breuers through the tough times.
“There are a lot of different roads (Mitchell) could have gone down,” Grant said. “I’m way prouder of that than anything he’s done on the mat. I’m just glad wrestling has been a vehicle to do this stuff and he still has positive people around him to carry that load.”
Success, whether on the mat, on the farm or with the family continues to be a driving force for Mitchell, just like the father he learned from and the brother he was willing to give anything for.
“I know if (Dad) was still here today, and he saw how Mitch and me were doing, he’d think that was pretty awesome,” Logan said.
Mitchell added, “I think he’d be very proud of us and proud for us. Go to state, don’t go to state, but for sure, you finish a season. You start something, you finish it. That’s what he would want the most.”