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After a ‘Kill Shot’ to the Eye, a Wrestler Restarts His Life

Rich Perry was an Olympic hopeful when he sustained a gruesome injury at a training camp in 2018. The question now is whether he can ever fully be himself again.

It was a small moment that would have been unremarkable before Richard Perry’s traumatic brain injury, a wrestling coach staying after practice to speak with a younger wrestler, playfully clutching him, making a razzing joke.

Until recently, Perry, known as Rich, would have headed immediately for the showers and then to the train station for an hour-and-a half ride home. Nearly five years into his recovery, he was not his old magnetic self but quieter, more introverted. Sometimes he stared into the distance and still needed a prompt to smile and to hug his daughter and tell her that he loved her.

Every spontaneous gesture, like leaving an affectionate note for his wife or a flower with her morning coffee or joking with a protégé after training, seemed consequential, a step forward.

“He’s smiling,” Gina Perry, 34, Rich’s wife, said in early May as she watched her husband from a room above the wrestling mats at the University of Pennsylvania, which also serves as a regional training center for Olympic-caliber athletes and elite aspirants. “To see that is beautiful.”

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