New U.S. Olympic contract keeps wrestlers training hard

USOC Wrestling
USOC Wrestling

Recently upgraded from an Olympic Education Center to an official Olympic Training Site, the new four-year contract between Northern Michigan University and the United States Olympic Committee puts the training facility in an elite class. ABC 10’s Danielle Davis explores what the new deal means for the U.P. and introduces us to some of the Olympic hopefuls that will benefit while training at NMU.

There are only 16 U.S. Olympic training sites in existence, and Northern Michigan University is home to one of them. NMU officials say being upgraded to an official training site puts the University in the right direction for continued success.

“It’s good education, it’s good economic development, it’s good athletics and it’s good patriotism to be a part of the Olympic Program for this country,” NMU president David Haynes said.

“Our goal is just to help the kids achieve their dreams and compete in the Olympics,” NMU director of athletics Forrest Karr said. “To be able to work in a field that allows you to be around people who are doing what they love and what they enjoy, that’s the best part for me.”

NMU is the home of men’s Greco-Roman wrestling and men’s and women’s weightlifting. Many of the Olympic hopefuls come from warmer climates, so they’ve had to get a bit creative to keep warm.

“Everyone makes fun of me because I keep my heater on full blast all year long,” Florida recruit Nick Alvarez said. “Coach comes in and he’s like, ‘it’s a sauna in here’. I like it like that.”

But even the cold weather can’t keep them from focusing on their goals and appreciating the unbelievable opportunity they say they are being given.

“My goal is to be in the Olympics one day, and I felt this was the best program for me,” Hawaiian recruit Jheryl Makaiau said. “I could go to school, get an education, we have some of the best heavyweights here.”

“It’s been amazing; I’ve been traveling the world through wrestling, meeting a bunch of people,” Alvarez said. “I get to see a bunch of things nobody else ever gets to see. I’ve been to Austria, Bulgaria, Thailand, Guatemala and even Cuba. Since I’m Cuban, that’s amazing for me. I got to see where my grandparents grew up, my aunts and uncles. My dad hasn’t event been there yet, so that was a big, emotional trip for me.”

Teammates say that although they are a long way from home, the bonds that they have developed keep them going strong.

“When we’re not in classes we’re hanging out in each others’ rooms, helping each other with homework, playing video games,” Makaiau said. “Then we’re here in the wrestling room, training hard with each other, so we just all have become real close, best friends (who would) do anything for each other.”

Since the start of the relationship more than 29 years ago, 24 athletes affiliated with NMU have earned a total of 35 Olympic medals, and athletes say they plan on going for the gold again in 2016.