On Oct. 7, Kym Tholen would have celebrated her 27th birthday. Instead her family is hosting a scholarship fund-raiser in her name.
The 1995 Aitkin High School graduate died three years ago from Huntingtons Chorea, a neurological disorder that "ate her body away."
"She was one of the youngest people to die from it," said Tholen's younger brother John Lehrke. "She was diagnosed in her late teens and she lived until she was 23. When we look back on it now, the symptoms were there well before she was diagnosed."
Tholen died unexpectedly in her sleep in a group home in Brainerd. Lehrke said the loss was tough on the whole family, but for him, words couldn't come out. He was still in high school and didn't know how to deal with the loss of his sister.
"They did watch wrestling, all three of our kids, that was their big highlight Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays after cartoons," said Deb Lehrke, Kym and John's mother.
John Lehrke recalls watching wrestling with his sister.
"One time Kym and the boys were watching all-star wrestling and she picked up my oldest, Jeff, and she body-slammed him and broke his collarbone. It was funny now when you look back on it. It wasn't at the time, but now it is."
Deb said the three practiced all the moves in the back yard. She said despite being a skinny, little blond girl, Kym made the boys cry more than they made her cry.
"We were pretty close," said John. "We had our times when we fought, but that's sibling rivalry.
"When we were young we watched a lot of wrestling. She watched it with me. It's kind of something that got me started in wrestling. It's been hard since I started wrestling, not having her around. This show is going to be really hard for me to do. It's going to be kind of emotional, but it's something I wanted to do for a long time. I just wanted to honor her."
The show Lehrke mentioned is the inaugural Kym Tholen Invitational, a professional wrestling bout scheduled Saturday in the old gym at Aitkin High School. The doors open at 6:30 p.m. with the matches beginning at 7 p.m.
Tickets can be purchased from Lehrke in advance or at the door. Tickets cost $7 for general admission and $10 for floor seating. All proceeds go toward the Kym Tholen Scholarship fund.
Kym Tholen Invitational
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Aitkin High School
Cost: $7 General admission, $10 floor seating
Cause: To raise money for the Kym Tholen Scholarship fund
"The scholarship will go to a senior from Aitkin High School," said Lehrke. "They'll have to write an essay of their goals and plans and why they want to go to college. My family will sit down and look at all the applicants. We're not focusing on one area to go into school for. It's an opportunity to anyone who wants to get some help."
Lehrke is known as J.B. Razz in the Midwest Pro Wrestling circuit based in Maple Grove. The 20-year old also travels to the Dakotas, Iowa and Wisconsin to fulfill a childhood dream of wrestling professionally.
The 2003 Aitkin Gobblers graduate played football and wrestled. He started training professionally last October and won his first wrestling match in his debut in April.
Lehrke still lives in Aitkin and is a bartender at Coach's Corner in Deerwood when he's not wrestling. He said the 12-match card has been a stressful endeavor. He's received a lot of help from his family and said the cause is making this all worth it.
"When (Kym) graduated from high school she moved into a group home in Brainerd," Lehrke said." It was a group home, but the staff didn't live there. She never looked at her life as having a disease. She lived life every day. If she wanted to do something or go somewhere she did it. She was never down and was always pretty happy."
Lehrke said the show is a family show for all ages, with the main purpose to raise money for the scholarship, he hopes to see 200 or more people.
"It's more of a launching pad," said Deb. "John has always wanted to do something for Kym and this is the first chance he's really gotten to do something for her. We just hope people turn out for a fun, family show.
"The wrestlers have already been warned that there will be no blood, swearing or chair throwing. We just wanted it to be a fun night."
And for the Lehrkes, a night to remember Kym through an activity she enjoyed with her brothers.
JEREMY MILLSOP can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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