WAILUKU — Rhylen Molina was having a blast on Monday morning at Jon Garcia Gymnasium while the weather was going crazy outside.
The 8-year-old third-grader got to mix it up on the wrestling mats with Jason Nolf, a three-time NCAA individual champion and four-time team champion at Penn State and a 2020 Pan American champion.
“Ten out of 10,” Molina said when asked how much fun he was having. “It’s good.”
Nolf was in town to put on a clinic at the behest of Maui Style Wrestling Club with funding help from USA Wrestling — the clinic was free to USA Wrestling members and Molina was one of the 65 grapplers in attendance, from Molina’s age to high schoolers.
There were also eight Maui coaches on hand to learn from the world-class competitor in his quick trip to Maui. Nolf, wife Madeline, who is a professional soccer player in Scotland, and business partner John Brotten are set to travel to Oahu today for another clinic.
Baldwin High School senior Noah Paet-Vida echoed Molina’s sentiments — Paet-Vida got to practice head-to-head with Nolf more than once, including asking Nolf to throw him after watching Nolf do it to defending state champion Jahlia Miguel.
“Oh, this is super fun,” Paet-Vida said. “Just learning new techniques, new situations like you get in, stuff like that.”
Paet-Vida said the high-flying throw that Nolf performed on him is now a goal of his to use in competition.
“Probably not, not yet, maybe if I keep working on it,” Paet-Vida said.
Miguel, the girls state champion at 145 pounds last season as a Baldwin freshman, was Paet-Vida’s practice partner on Monday.
“Oh, so much fun, it’s really fun, I love it,” Paet-Vida said of working against his teammate.
Miguel was a little quiet while waiting for the event to begin, but once she got on the mats, her smile was wide and bright.
“Oh, I’m having so much fun, learning from him, a world-class guy,” Miguel said. “It’s super cool learning from him and learning new techniques and stuff, him giving back to the community, even though he’s not from here, he’s still giving back to the world. It’s just good. He’s helping the little generation gain more experience and giving them more knowledge they can use as they grow up.”
Miguel said she learned a move call “the grilled cheese” from Nolf and after a break she was looking forward to learning “mashed potatoes.”
Nolf said the main thing while doing clinics like these is to make sure the competitors are having fun.
“I mean, it’s like a dream, I love Hawaii — I’ve never been to Hawaii, but I mean my first trip here has been amazing,” said Nolf, who turns 27 next month. “It rained a little bit today and the people in Hawaii said, ‘Oh, this is horrible weather,’ but I mean it’s a lot better than the snow we have right now in Pennsylvania.”
Nolf competed for Team USA last week in the World Cup — he went 1-1 in the tournament, but the Americans won the gold medal over Iran, six matches to four in the final.
“I was glad to be a part of that, it was a good team win,” he said. “I’m competing in Croatia in February, I think that’s the next one.”
When asked if his ultimate goal is the Olympics, Nolf didn’t hesitate: “100 percent, yup, in 2024. On the way though I’ve got to win the world championships.”
Nolf looked around the gym and smiled.
“They’re very quick learners, actually,” he said. “I showed a couple ankle pick series and at the beginning they weren’t really getting the footwork right, but after about 5 to 10 minutes, they were picking it up really quickly and not a lot of places can do that. A lot of times it will take three to four practices before they start picking up the footwork, but they were very quick learners.
“They are eager to learn and they’re a fun group to work with, for sure. The girls are awesome, they are just as good as the boys, it seems like, so the quality of wrestling is very high and you can tell the girls are just as passionate, so that’s really exciting to see because girls wrestling is a newer sport.”
He and Brotten run a wrestling teaching business called ScrapLife and they are also working on another venture called Athletes Ocean, a social platform for wrestling instruction.
“It’s pretty incredible that it’s brought me to Hawaii, wrestling has done so much for me in my life, taken me to some pretty cool places,” Nolf said, “so I’m definitely grateful for that.”
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com