INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A Warren Central wrestler survived a near death experience to triumph on the national stage. People often say, "Life is a game of inches," but for this teenager, that inch was the difference between life and death.
As a competitor, Jeivan Ross is one of the best in the state. He is a three-time All-American who was undefeated in middle school and state ranked last-year for Warren Central Head Coach Jim Tonte.
“Ross can beat anybody. He’s one move away from putting everyone away,” Tonte said. "We preach that all the time that wrestling prepares you for life.”
In late May of this year, Ross was sitting in his bedroom when a bullet came through his window, and struck him in the forehead. The family said two cars had been shooting at one another when an errant shot pierced their home.
“I was in my bed just laying down, I heard some car screeching," Ross said. “If I didn’t turn around at the time, it would probably be in the back of my skull.”
Ross lives with his aunt and uncle. They can still remember the night vividly. “As they were going down the street, they were shooting at the car behind them,” said his aunt Jennifer Pierson.
The family thought he had been struck by a piece of shattered glass from the window the bullet pierced. Instead, the bullet was stuck in his forehead. While Ross was still conscious, his family drove him to the hospital just minutes away.
“There was a time when he had IV’s in both of his arms, and they were burning," Pierson recounted. "Jeivan doesn’t cry, and to see the tears streaming down his face, he was in pain.”
He laid in the hospital bed for 12 hours with the bullet still inside before doctors chose to remove it.
“First day I was in the hospital, I was thinking about when I was going to get back,” Ross said.
“My first thought was man the man upstairs has a plan for him,” Tonte said.
Before the shooting, Ross had been only a month away from competing in one of the biggest wrestling tournaments of the year. His eyes were firmly set on winning the Disney Duals tournament in Florida. At the tournament, some of the best high school grapplers in the country turn Disney's Wide World of Sports into their personal showcase. Ross had already been twice.
“It’s in Win magazine, it’s a lot of publicity, a lot of pub,” Tonte said.
Despite being in pain from the stitches, and telling FOX59, “It hurt to smile, it hurt to talk," Ross said his time away from the mat began invigorating him. Within two weeks, he was already running and jogging in the morning.
“My coaches found like a mask, headgear with a mask," Ross said. "So without my parents knowing I got into a little wrestling.”
The mask is difficult to compete in. The large, black foam mask only has circular openings for the eyes and mouth, but it was his ticket to competing. With just two days before Disney Duals and 23 days out from being shot, he was cleared to compete.
“If you had asked me on May 30th, I'd have told you there is no way in heck this is going to happen," Pierson said.
Somehow, Ross made it to Florida and began competing despite the handicap of the mask covering his still swollen forehead.
“I’m sitting on the edge of my seat," Tonte said. "Basically just wondering exactly if we are doing the right thing.”
At one point, the warrior nature of Ross became too much.
“The very first match we are 3/4 of the way through, and he rips the mask off throws it over towards me," Tonte said completely in awe.
“Even though he’s been cleared I'm like what if?” said Pierson of that moment.
Ross not only won, but he kept on winning. Eventually, he encountered one of the toughest competitors in his weight class.
“I was getting nervous. I was like man this is not going good," Tonte said.
The match was 13-3, with Ross losing ground quickly, but holding his opponent from pinning him. With one second left in the match, the frustration overcame his opponent.
“Out of anger, he just grabs the mouth hole, and just tries to rip it off backwards," Ross said.
The plastic mask pressed to his forehead, as his body flopped to the mat. Referees called for a disqualification.
“I wasn’t going to let the pain bother me in the match, I just had to go," Ross said.
“I was concerned where he was at emotionally," Tonte said. "He bounced back, he bounced back well.”
After three weeks without training or preparation, he left Florida nearly flawless.
“I think I went 7-1, 8-1, something like that," Ross said of his record.
His medal from the tournament now sits on his dresser as a daily reminder of his courage, while his scar remains a constant flashback of the story he lives to tell.
Ross said he currently has no lingering effects from being shot, and in the future, he plans to become a physical therapist, so he can help other injured athletes get back to the sports they love. Until then, he’s focused on Brownsburg for the team’s first match of the season.