When he started grade school, Andrew Nicola admits he was an uncontrollable little handful of energy and attitude. Wrestling, he says, saved his life and his mother Diane's sanity by providing some focus.
He started in the gym at age 7, and 22 years later he's still there, but the locations of the gyms keep changing. For the last 10 years, the 2003 Concordia Lutheran graduate has bounced around more than Bernie Madoff's checkbook. This week he's a United States National Team assistant coach at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
That's a pretty good bounce, but because his mother thinks he'd be happier, she prods him to find a great wife and start producing grandbabies for her to spoil. He'd probably like that, too, but it might require him to slow down, and right now he can't.
"I do have kids, Mom, you just don't see them,'' he tells her.
The wrestlers in the gym are his kids, and each needs the same amount of attention he did as a youngster so wrestling continues to provide focus. It's what Nicola knows he's on earth to do; he's still getting better at it and so are his kids.
But Diane just sighs, wondering if family life will ever happen.
A lot of things in Nicola's life probably never should have happened, except for his determination. He won a sectional as a sophomore, but never again. Despite being 36-1 as a senior, he lost in the sectionals. He had beaten four kids who stood on the podium at the state finals that year.
Then Nicola and buddies Joel Anderson and Dave Herman walked on at Indiana and made the team. Though Anderson and Herman stuck it out, Nicola decided he needed to concentrate on his grades. He graduated with a 3.8 grade-point average and a degree in biology, but also with a couple of years of coaching experience at Bloomington North and then Bloomington South where his passion found fulfillment.
After graduating in 2008, he went to Culver Military Academy as a teacher and coach, mentoring the school's first state champion. A year later he went to Calumet College as an assistant coach while teaching at East Chicago High School.
After a year there, he applied to be a graduate assistant at Central Missouri where he finally stayed someplace two years and last year earned a master's in athletic sports business administration with a 4.0 GPA.
He bounced again to Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn., as an assistant coach, and entering his second year he's also working on another master's degree in education. The one thing he's stuck with is coaching the Team Indiana squad, which allows him to work with the state's best wrestlers each summer. Eleven years of that has also put him on the USA Wrestling radar leading to his current trip.
No matter what happens, Nicola keeps bouncing higher up the coaching chain. He loves Cumberland and his kids, always waking up before his 5:30 a.m. alarm, studying and then sweating in the gym at all hours before coming home to write papers. Before his trip to Budapest, he wrote two papers in two days so he'd stay on pace.
He's always staying on pace, always chasing the next phase of his coaching life, and maybe even someday the other parts of his life.
"There will come a time when I'm dad instead of coach,'' he says. "I've been wrestling for a long time now, and I want to be a husband and father in the near future. I just need to find the right woman who can understand my passion.''
And someday he'd like to move closer to Indiana so he can be closer to family. Right now, he's concentrating on Budapest.
You'd think her son representing our country would really interest Diane, but she was more excited last week when Andrew told her he had a date.