KAILUA-KONA — When asked to recap the last year of his life, Michael Macchiavello could only laugh.
“Crazy,” he said with a big grin. “It’s been unbelievable.”
Back in March, Macchiavello capped his college career at NC State with the 197-pound NCAA national championship — a feat few would have thought possible when he began his journey with the Wolfpack as an unheralded freshman with a losing record.
Since then, his phone has been buzzing with opportunities from all over the globe — from the WWE to American Top Team — and in November he will represent the United States at the under-23 World Championships in Romania.
“It’s really been life changing,” said Macchiavello, a North Carolina native. “A lot of doors have been opened.”
One of the more unique connections Macchiavello has made is with Kealakehe High School wrestling coach, Ivan Louis. While at NC State, Macchiavello befriended two of Louis’ nieces, who connected him with the Waverider skipper.
The two built a relationship, eventually leading to Macchiavello flying to the Big Island to put on the LAVA clinic this week at Kealakehe. The clinic’s name is an acronym: Learn, Apply, Visualize and Action.
“When Ivan brought up the idea, I didn’t have to think twice,” Macchiavello said. “I told him absolutely — I’ll be there.”
Louis saw it as a slam-dunk partnership, too.
“I was blown away by the opportunity to get a national champion here,” Louis said. “I saw it as a huge value to our community. We wanted to have something we could call our own. We don’t want to have to go to Maui or Oahu.”
While Macchiavello worked with the wrestlers technically on the mat during the sessions, his story is one that the kids could relate to and be inspired by.
He didn’t come from an area with a deep wrestling culture, becoming just the second NCAA champion wrestler from the state of North Carolina and the first in more than three decades (the first was 450-pound Winston-Salem native Tab Thacker in 1984).
On top of that, Macchiavello was a relative latecomer to the sport — not getting a full season under his belt until his freshman year of high school — and he wasn’t a touted recruit when he decided to stay in-state to attend NC State.
“I can see it is very much the same story out here for a lot of kids,” Macchiavello said. “They might think they are too far behind, but it’s all about hard work. These kids have all the ability in the world, physically and mentally. But it’s all about the time you put in. The more you commit, the better you will be — that’s just the nature of the sport.”
Since taking over the Kealakehe program during the 2014-15 season, Louis has garnered a few titles of his own, building the Waverider program into a BIIF powerhouse. Last year, incoming senior Roxie Umu brought home the school’s first state gold in a decade and the girls program captured a third consecutive league title. The boys didn’t win the BIIF championship, but a solid crop of talent keeps the ‘Riders in the running as consistent contenders.
But Louis’ goal with the clinic is not just to help improve his wrestlers. He wants to help build the wrestling culture as a whole and improve the level of competition locally.
“When I look at the top programs in the state, it comes down to experience and competition,” Louis said. “With this clinic, we were able to bring someone with a lot of experience to us, rather than having to travel for it.
“We have to work together on this island,” he added, “encourage our wrestlers rather than discourage.”
Away from wrestling, the trip has served as an eye-opening experience for Macchiavello, who has been a welcomed guest in the Louis’ home. He’s been surfing, checked out some manta rays during a night dive and even tried his hand at playing the ukulele — a pretty good haul of memories for his first trip to the Aloha State.
“It’s so laid back,” Macchiavello said. “The pace is low-key and everybody is so friendly.”
Macchiavello has also earned himself an honorary spot in the Louis ohana.
“He blends in well here. He’s very personable and very patient,” Louis said. “When he leaves we are going to miss him being around.”
Macchiavello’s planner is only going to get more packed in the coming months, and his sights are set on making it to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
However, no matter how busy he gets, he’s hoping to keep the Big Island in his plans as an annual trip.
“We have big plans for this clinic,” Macchiavello said. “Next year, I want to bring back another one of my teammates from NC State and continue building it. I’ll be back.”