From NICU to winning wrestler, Webb City 6-year-old’s journey

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"She was strong-willed and determined in the NICU and she's still that way now."

WEBB CITY, Mo. — Earlier this year, we shared a story about Webb City’s Bryar Wortman’s wrestling wins. Now, his younger sister, six-year-old Brenlee Wortman, is following in his footsteps.

Brenlee Wortman spent the beginning of her life in the NICU at Freeman Health System in Joplin.

Born at 30 weeks with undeveloped lungs, breathing was Brenlee’s main issue. Then, while in the NICU, she got an infection.

“It was one they had never dealt with. They had to call Children’s Mercy and research it and figure out what they were going to do for that,” said Brenlee’s mother Sammy Wortman.

Her older brother Bryar was two-years-old at the time and met Brenlee through the window of the NICU, where she spent a total of 18 days.

“She’s healthy now… She doesn’t have asthma, she can run and do whatever,” said Brenlee’s father Ike Wortman.

Fast forward to just two and a half months ago, Brenlee expressed her interest in wrestling.

“I just wanted to because I saw my brother wrestle,” said Brenlee.

“We didn’t plan on putting her in wrestling, she just suddenly decided that she wanted to do it… She just kind of took off,” said Sammy.

Now, Brenlee is continually taking first place in wrestling matches with her club, Bentonville Arkansas’ Honey Badgers Wrestling Club.

The Wortmans visit Bentonville three to four times per week for practice and weigh-ins, attending wrestling matches on weekends.

In a recent wrestling match in Seneca, Brenlee won two medals for first place in the boys open and the girls open, and one trophy for the “quickest pin.” Although, Brenlee says her favorite wrestling move is the “high crotch takedown.”

Then at Neosho’s “Battle for the Belt” on December 18, Brenlee won first place.

Courtesy of the Wortmans

Brenlee is currently the only girl on the Honey Badgers and also the youngest.

“She’s got a lot of big brothers at the gym. She’s the first girl so they are enjoying it,” said Sammy.

“She will eventually just wrestle girls, but right now with her being so young there’s not a whole lot of girls yet,” Sammy continued.

After trying multiple other sports prior to wrestling, Ike says that wrestling is “about the only thing she’ll pay attention in.”

“She walks into the gym and her focus is like none other,” said Sammy.

Right now, she is “obsessed” with wrestling, but Brenlee’s parents will support anything that she wants to pursue.

“If she wants to quit next week, then we’ll do something else. Whatever she wants to do, as long as she goes after it a hundred percent,” said Ike.

“She was strong-willed and determined in the NICU and she’s still that way now,” he added.

The Wortmans praise Freeman’s NICU

“The nurses were really great with communication, specifically Karen Boyd… She was incredible, she’s what helped us get through it,” said Sammy. “It’s not easy leaving them, but you know they’re in good hands and you can trust them.”

“They take care of them like they’re their own kid… They’re loving on them, telling you about how long they held them that night,” said Ike, describing it as comforting.

Karen Boyd has been a NICU nurse at Freeman for 25 years and says there’s “more fantastic days than rough days.”

“Every one of those babies that comes in is special,” said Boyd. “When Brenlee was born, she was one of the roughest and toughest we had. She was a fighter.”

Boyd keeps up with the kids she has cared for in the NICU and has watched Brenlee grow up. She says she is proud of Brenlee.

During Brenlee’s stay at Freeman’s NICU, they even held a Halloween costume contest in which she was dressed as a bumblebee. She won first place then, too.

Courtesy of the Wortmans

Brenlee says she still has that bumblebee costume in her bedroom.

“There’s a lot that aren’t as fortunate coming out of it, so we know how blessed we are for that,” Sammy concluded.

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