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U.S. Olympian's roller coaster ride to Rio is a true underdog's story: 'A defining moment in my life'

Posted August 14

Frank Molinaro's journey to the Olympics has been a bit of a roller coaster ride, to say the least.

The New Jersey native, who is a member of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team and is set to compete this month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, started playing the sport when he was just 4 and a half years old.

"Wrestling had its hooks in me at an early age," Molinaro recently told Deseret News, describing how a hobby eventually morphed into a life-long quest to compete in the world's most revered sporting event.

It was just three months ago, though, that Molinaro's hopes for Olympic stardom were dashed. He had stunned observers at Team USA's Olympic Trials in April, not having achieved much professional success to that point. But despite an excellent performance, Molinaro found himself in a difficult position.

He had placed high, but the U.S. didn't have an automatic Olympic berth at his weight class, 65 kg (143 pounds). So, he had to travel abroad to participate in additional qualifiers. And it was while competing in Turkey in May that he came in short of qualifying to make the team.

Watch Molinaro wrestle during an April qualifier.

It was a defeat that immediately left him drained and depressed, as his Olympic dream seemed, at the point, impossible.

"Every ounce of me was focused on qualifying, and believing I was going to the Olympics," Molinaro said. "It was a feeling of complete defeat, and agony."

But as Molinaro began to pack his bags and prepare to leave the arena, his coach approached with a shocking message. He told the athlete, "I know this is the last thing that you want to hear, but you're going to have to put your shoes back on and wrestle for bronze."

As it turned out, stepping back on the mat and competing one last time would give Molinaro a final shot at the Olympics.

"My initial reaction was shock," Molinaro said, reflecting back on the moment. "I had just cried and wasted all my energy for the past two hours. I had nothing in me, and felt like I couldn’t even stand up."

Despite the challenge ahead — one that would require Molinaro to muster enough energy to compete against two tough opponents — he got up, readied himself and competed.

"It was a defining moment in my life," Molinaro said. "I knew God had his hands all over it."

Molinaro ended up coming in third, just missing the second-place cut-off needed to qualify; still, the journey wasn't over. Just a few days later, two wrestlers — Magomedmurad Gadzhiev from Poland and Andriy Kvyatksvskyy from Ukraine —were banned from the weight class after meldonium, a banned substance, was reportedly found in their systems, according to WCBS-TV.

That meant that Molinaro was instantly bumped up, thus qualifying to compete in freestyle wrestling at the Rio Olympics.

"It was euphoric and it was an ecstatic moment when I first found out," he said. "I felt that throughout the whole process I had trusted in God, and he was providing me with a second chance. I felt the grace and compassion of God rush over me."

Molinaro said that "it was an overwhelming feeling," as he had "put so much into becoming an Olympian" throughout his life. And while it's been a roller coaster that has come along with some unique challenges, Molinaro believes it's his destiny to win in Rio.

"My ultimate goal in Rio is to come home with a gold medal as an individual, and as a team," he said. "I not only want to win the gold, but help my teammates as best I can when we are down there."

Rather than hampering his Christian faith, Molinaro said that the uncertainty he faced before finally learning that he'd be heading to Rio forced him to rely on God regardless of the outcome.

"I knew I would be okay if it didn’t happen but I was all in on God. I trusted 100 percent and couldn’t even see it any other way, to be honest," Molinaro said. "I choose trust over fear."

Molinaro's story proves that underdogs shouldn't be discounted. After all, he hadn't had widespread professional success before this year, taking assistant coaching jobs at Rutgers and Penn State to bring in an income.

But now, all that is about to change as he's gearing up for the competition of his life.

Molinaro said that he's hoping to use his platform to continue encouraging others through his Christian faith, saying that inspiring people to have God in their lives is one of his biggest motivators for reaching wrestling success.

His Olympic quest is just one of the many inspirational stories set to unfold during the games in Rio this month.

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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