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Wrestling With Terror : Gunshots Haunt Young Athlete’s Battle to Recover

Times Staff Writer

Wrestling is Dante Terramani Jr.'s world, one that even gunshots failed to shatter. Wounded during a burglary attempt at his home in July, he has recovered enough to return to the mats at Rio Hondo College.

Terramani, 19, of Monterey Park, is trying to focus on his daily regimen of freshman classes and wrestling practice--and, with the season starting, his passionate quest to become a state champion in the 142- or 150-pound division.

Earlier this year, as a senior at Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra, he placed second in the CIF Masters meet and fourth in the state tournament.

He had all of his natural strength then. Now, however, his left leg, which took two bullets, is weak.

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“I was amazed that I was shot,” Terramani said. “That feeling of having been shot still lingers because I know something is not perfect about my body. I guess when my body comes back to normal, I won’t have that feeling anymore.”

Sleeping is another problem for the young athlete. After nearly three months, he still lies in bed uneasily, haunted by the memory of that frightening morning.

About 4 a.m. on July 12 an intruder entered the bedroom of the young wrestler’s parents and awoke Dante Terramani Sr., 57.

A safe, unlocked but containing only papers, was in an open closet.

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The room was lighted by street signs a block away, and the robber’s flashlight. “He touched me and put a gun at my head,” Terramani Sr. said.

His son, down the hall, awoke when he heard his father scream while grabbing for the intruder’s .22-caliber pistol.

“I ran into my dad’s room,” Terramani said, “and he was fighting with this guy. I jumped between them and started fighting. We were pushing him into a closet. Then I threw a punch and he shot me in the back.”

As his mother screamed, his wrestling instincts took over. He went for the legs of the 190-to-200-pound man, who was falling back in the closet against Mrs. Terramani’s dresses and shoes.

“When I went down toward his legs, he shot me again, in the thigh,” he said. “I fell back and while I was on the floor he shot me again.

“He dropped his flashlight in the fight and I pulled off his shoes somehow. He was going out and he realized something was missing and ran back in. There was someone outside who came in to help him. My dad ran back to his room and shut the door. One of the guys said, ‘Let me in or I’ll shoot,’ so we let him in. They got their stuff and left.

“I got up and walked to my room. I barely made it to the door. I fell on the ground and lost consciousness. I was trying to focus and the next thing I noticed was the police and the paramedics coming in.

“When they were pulling me out, I was thinking, ‘Now I can’t go to wrestling practice.’ That’s the first thing that went through my mind.”

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Terramani was in the hospital for three days, then a month and a half later underwent an operation to have the three bullets removed.

Dante Terramani Jr. has wrestled since he was in the eighth grade.

He believes the sign on the door of his room that reads: “Wrestling, the Greatest Sport.”

“I don’t like team sports,” he said before a practice. “I like to rely on myself.”

Recruited by Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Bakersfield, the 5-foot-6 Terramani chose Rio Hondo, a junior college near Whittier with a reputation for wrestling excellence. “I wasn’t a state champion and wanted to be one. That drive was still pushing me.”

And he was familiar with the Rio Hondo wrestling room, having worked out there while in high school.

“He expressed loyalty,” said Rio Hondo Coach Ken Bos. “Rio Hondo had been important to him in his development. We had established a coach-athlete relationship.”

Bos, in his 18th season at Rio Hondo, has coached the Roadrunners to the state junior college title twice, including last season. He has had 30 All-Americans.

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To a Rod Stewart song that was on the radio, Terramani and his Rio Hondo teammates paired off, locking against each other, clawing, grasping, wrenching, lunging, whirling, pivoting and spinning. Hands slapped loudly against bare legs.

The black and gold mat, which covered the large, high-ceilinged room, was wet with sweat.

This was Terramani’s world, and he labored willingly at it until his skin glistened. His right thigh is smaller than his left.

“Atrophy,” Bos said. “Thighs are important to a wrestler. Losing strength there is crucial.”

Bos said Terramani is at 85% of his full strength but he expects him to be at 95% in a couple of weeks.

“He has excellent talent and potential,” Bos said. “There are two types of wrestlers, the grab-and-squeeze muscle guys and the technically proficient real slick guys. Dante tends to be from the latter group. He has competitive spirit, heart.”

Terramani’s father does not think he will wrestle this season.

“I don’t think he can take the pain,” Terramani Sr., a native of Italy, said at his meticulously furnished Spanish-style home.

There is pain, Terramani Jr. admitted, “but I know I’m going to wrestle.”

He is a hero to his father.

“I think he saved my life,” Terramani Sr. said. “I don’t know what that guy would have done to me.”

But that pride in his son has existed all along. “He’s been a good boy all his life; he helps at the store a lot,” Terramani Sr. said. The store he owns, the Mexi-Catessen restaurant, is a block from the Terramani home.

His son, though, does not think of himself as a hero: “I did what I had to do. It was instinct. I ran in there.”

The case goes to Pasadena Superior Court next week. Charged with burglary is Joe Jaimez, 33, who was arrested Aug. 17. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said there was insufficient evidence for an attempted murder charge, but the Monterey Park Police Department and the Terramanis hope that further evidence can be gathered so that charge can be brought against Jaimez. The other suspect has not been apprehended.

Although the blood has been cleaned from the green carpet in the Terramanis’ bedroom, a bullet hole remains in the closet door.

Life goes on for the family, but with a new perspective.

“We never had a gun,” Terramani Sr. said. “Now we have one in every room.”

Terramani Jr.'s room remains a shrine to his sport. There is a display of trophies, which competes for attention with Keppel High team photos and action shots of Terramani. At the foot of the bed, next to a guitar, is a scale.

But on the desk now is a gun-cleaning kit. And on the window are bars.

The young wrestler sits in this room and dreams of becoming a champion. And he tries to forget the nightmare.


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