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Extreme Wrestling: Sometimes-Fatal Fad

John Nunziato says he never saw it coming.

"He lifted me up. All I saw was nothing but street lights and a couple of cars. Then down, darkness," he says.

With one move, his neck was broken. Two vertebrae were crushed. Another was snapped like a twig. John says he couldn't feel anything.

In one moment, a game had become a gamble and this 22-year old had lost. John was rushed to a hospital in suburban Chicago, the latest victim in an increasingly violent and dangerous duel called backyard wrestling.

John's mother, Roberta, feared her son would never walk again.

"They had to open his neck up and, working around the spinal column, had to pick shards of bone out and replace the bone that was crushed," Roberta explains, "and put the titanium rod in."

In cities all across the country, kids have suffered concussions and broken bones and needed stitches because of backyard wrestling. And in most cases, their parents had no idea.

John's injury happened 3 years ago, and it still brings Roberta to tears. But now her tears have turned to anger.

"Those guys on TV, they're professionals who go to school. They learn how to take the fall . . . and let's face it, it's choreographed. They know what's going to come next. These guys were just clueless," she says.

And professional wrestlers feel the same. In this case, imitation is not flattering. The World Wrestling Federation even has a public service announcement reminding wrestling fans not to try the moves at home.

So what made John and his friends think that they could do what the professional wrestlers do and not get hurt?

"Sheer stupidity," says John. "It was a stupid thing to do."

To this day, Roberta has never watched the videotape that was being made of the backyard wrestling match that caused her son's injury, and she says she never will.

"I can't watch it," she says. "I can't watch my son being hurt like that. I saw the aftermath and I could . . . I couldn't handle watching that," she says, while crying.

Today, after months of rehab, John still has limited use of his right hand and his neck. But he considers himself lucky.

"Just walking is considered a big victory for me," he says.

Until John's injury, no one in his group seemed to realize that this fad could have been fatal.
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