It was Nanseka’s decision to bring Tuzizila, then the youngest of three children, to the U.S. to afford him the opportunities and education he would not have living in his native country.
When he arrived in America, Tuzizila was barely 10 years old and hardly spoke a word of English.
His life, it turns out, was just beginning.
“It was a surprise to my parents that my uncle wanted to bring me here because coming to the U.S. is one of the biggest privileges anyone can have, especially coming from my country,” Tuzizila said. “Where I was, there wasn’t as many opportunities that we have here. I got to come here, mostly for the education and to get my life going in the right way and the blessed way.”
Learning English was a challenge. Tuzizila arrived knowing how to speak French, the national language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He also spoke his native language of Lingala.
Through his English as a second language classes, and conversations with friends, Tuzizila’s language barrier broke down. It took him about two years to test out of the classes.
“Learning English was challenging,” he said. “I’m still learning it. My pronunciation is not as well as I want it to be. But it was interesting. When I started taking normal classes, it was very challenging. There were still phrases and words I didn’t know, but I eventually got it.
“I started regular school in the third quarter of fifth grade and also went to summer school. By the time I got to sixth grade, I was pretty good with English.”
Playing sports, however, was another challenge. Tuzizila didn’t participate in any sports as a middle-schooler, but he did watch them on TV. He found football interesting — although he thought it had a funny name and looked more like rugby — and he decided that when he got to Campbell High School, he would join the football team.
Little did Tuzizila know, when he came to the U.S., that wrestling would become his best sport — and that he wouldn’t see his parents and siblings again until this past fall.
“Doing sports in high school, really opened up a lot of doors for me,” Tuzizila said. “I got to talk to a lot of people and I started opening up.
“It’s been sad, though, not seeing my family, but I’ve been in good hands with my uncle. He was like another father, and his wife was very welcoming. But, being here, I’ve had a great time with my uncle.
“Every once in a while, I’ll call my mom (Aline) because my dad (Bruno) would have to go off into the country and work for months and months as a farmer. The first few years, it was really tough because I was the last child. But my mom was pregnant with my little brother when I left and she had him two weeks after I got here.
“I hadn’t seen any of them until the middle of October.”
Tuzizila joined the Campbell football team as a freshman, playing as a defensive back and kicker. He was also introduced to wrestling that same season, and while he didn’t start off very well, he liked the sport and eventually got better.
“I played football all through high school but really focused my efforts on wrestling,” Tuzizila said. “I like that it’s an individual sport. It really depends on how much you put into it in the offseason and during practice. It’s about what you do.”
Tuzizila has improved every year he’s been on the team. Nicknamed “Congo” by his teammates, he’s currently 31-6 overall as a senior at 145 pounds.
“He’s been on varsity since he was a freshman,” Campbell coach Shawn Slenczka said. “He was a mixed case when he started and didn’t know a lot, but he was a hard fighter that tried not to get pinned. His technique has progressed each year and his confidence just went up with each win. He’s a different and more polished wrestler now.”
Tuzizila says he’s a different person as well.
“Wrestling’s inspired me a lot,” he said. “I think wrestling is the sport that made me a better person. From freshman year to now, it’s taught me to be dedicated and understand that, if you keep putting your work into something, than you’ll get better.
“They say hard work beats talent, so, basically, that’s my story. I worked and I worked, and I think I became very talented in it.”
Oct. 12 was the night Tuzizila saw his parents since for the first time since his move to the U.S. They had moved to Charlotte, N.C., where there is a large Congolese community, a better support system and where Tuzizila has another uncle and two aunts.
After attending a pep rally at school for that night’s football game against Pebblebrook — which he did not play in — Tuzizila was driven to Charlotte by his uncle.
“My uncle and aunt told me (my family was going to be there) when we were heading up to North Carolina to visit my cousin,” Tuzizila said. “When I found out, I was shocked, but I felt really blessed because it was unexpected. Since I came here, I had always thought about getting my life together and in the right direction, hoping I could bring my family down here (to Atlanta) because being away from them was hard.
“Just knowing that they’re here now, just in another state, is a blessing to me.”
Seeing his family for the first time in many years was emotional for Tuzizila.
“My dad was coming out of the house and I was coming out of the car,” he said. “I just looked at him. It had been only six years, but he changed a lot. I had always wondered how he looked.
“My dad came slowly to me and picked me up like I was his little child when I was born. He grabbed me and held me tight. It was so nice to see him once again. I went inside and saw my mom. She was helping my aunt out with cooking. My mom was just crying with rejoice.
“I caught up with my older brother and the memories we had, and my little brother was too tired to wake up. My older brother was like my best friend in Africa, so it was a very emotional day.”
Tuzizila recently became a U.S. citizen after passing a naturalization test. The only thing left now is for his family to see him wrestle for the first time.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m pretty sure it will be a great day for me, and the (wrestler) I’m going to be facing, it will not be a good day for them. I never thought that day would occur that they would see me wrestle because of our situation. I talked to (my family) and told them I wrestled, and I sent them pictures, but they’ve never seen me in action.
“For them to be there would be remarkable. It’s probably better than going off to win the state championship. That’s the goal this year. That day will be very inspiring. I’m really hoping for them to come and see me wrestle.”