Meet Frank Molinaro: ‘Gorilla Hulk’ Wrestler, Catholic Olympian — and Dad
‘I’m grateful to God every day for the sport I love to do and am grateful he guides me in my everyday life,’ says the New Jersey native.
Like Jacob wrestling with the angel at Peniel (Genesis 32:22-32), New Jersey native Frank Molinaro — who goes by the moniker “The Gorilla Hulk” — is a wrestling force.
Molinaro resides in State College, Pa., with his wife, Kera Bolen. The couple married in May 2014.
The U.S. wrestler is scheduled to compete for the men’s freestyle 65-kilogram classification at the Olympics on Aug. 21.
This 5-foot-5, 143-pound 27-year-old has a lot of power in his diminutive frame — and a great deal more, if you count his spiritual life.
Born in Barnegat Township, N.J., Molinaro is a nationally recognized wrestler and coach who crosses himself before and after each match, as he offers up a quick prayer.
“I would describe my faith as unshakeable,” he told the Register. “It’s the foundation of our family, my wife and I, and it’s essential in our daily lives. We rely on our faith ― in good times and hard times. Our faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ keeps us exactly where we need to be.”
Molinaro is ranked as No. 1 at the 65 kg classification for the 2016-17 Team USA. He has been on Team USA for two years (2014-15 and 2016-17).
Molinaro graduated as a three-time New Jersey State Champion at Manahawkin’s Southern Regional High School and placed second at High School Nationals.
At Penn State, Molinaro claimed All-American honors four times, making him only the fifth Penn State wrestler to be a four-time All-American.
His impressive record includes championing in the 2016 World Cup, the 2016 Pan American, the 2015 Grand Prix of Spain, the 2015 Guelph Open and the 2012 NCAA champion for Penn State. He also served as assistant wrestling coach at Rutgers University from 2012 to 2014.
Molinaro is a competing member of the Association of Career Wrestlers. He’s also currently pursuing an international wrestling career, training with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.
Molinaro took time out of his busy schedule to speak with the Register about his faith and career, ahead of his big moment at the Olympics.
He is as unflappably focused on his spiritual life as he is in his wrestling career.
“I would describe it as my stronghold, foundation and my compass,” explained Molinaro. “I use it to move through my daily life in how I make decisions and use it to shape the person I am and want to be.”
In addition to praying before and after each match, Molinaro has an active spiritual and sacramental life that he “tackles” with as much energy and dedication as he does his sport.
“I’m very active in my parish, but am always trying to keep growing and constantly learning,” said Molinaro. “It’s awesome to start your day by spending time with God in prayer, using devotionals and reflecting in my journal. I get a renewal every Sunday in church at Mass. I also use a variety of [other] ways to grow, through Bible studies and fellowship, which prompts growth and keeps me God-centered.”
Road to Rio
Being at the Olympics is a bit of a miracle for Molinaro.
According to United World Wrestling, Molinaro was able to join the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team only after two European wrestlers were stripped of their awards and banned from the games for doping violations.
He won the 65 kg freestyle weight class at the U.S. Olympic Trials after a spectacular run as the No. 9 seed. However, because of past results, the U.S. hadn’t qualified in the weight classification at the Olympics.
Because of this, Molinaro had to finish among the top three places in qualifying matches in order to earn a spot in Rio. He went 1-1 in Mongolia and lost in the quarterfinals of the Turkey qualifier. Despite this setback, the scrappy Molinaro proved his resilience by earning a bronze medal, but he didn’t qualify for the U.S. Olympic team.
However, due to wrestlers Magomedmurad Gadzhiev (Poland) and Andriy Kvyatkovskyy (Ukraine) illegally doping, Molinaro received his license as a result of the first qualifier in Mongolia, after the adjustment.
According to Molinaro, this opened the way for him to qualify for the U.S. Olympic Trials and represent the United States in Rio. He has joined five other U.S. men’s freestyle wrestlers who had previously qualified for the games, including Jordan Burroughs of Winslow Township, N.J. Molinaro and Burroughs competed for the 2005 New Jersey 125-pound title, which Molinaro won in overtime.
No matter the challenge, Molinaro’s faith grounds him.
“My faith plays a big role in my sport, on several levels. A huge way it impacts me is through [keeping me] balanced,” he said. “It keeps me level and balanced when I’m having amazing days and when I feel tired or rundown. I know I don’t have the high highs or low lows because I’m grounded in my faith and know that it will always be there.
“I’m grateful to God every day for the sport I love to do and am grateful he guides me in my everyday life.”
Molinaro got word of his second son’s birth via text while he was in Rio prepping for the Olympics. He had originally expected to be by his wife’s side for the birth, as her due date wasn’t until Aug. 28 ― well after the end of the Olympics.
Being half a world away in the wrong hemisphere, Molinaro, who already has an older son, could do nothing except alternatively panic and worry about his wife and children. And then pray a great deal.
Frank Jr. was born at 9:54pm on Monday, Aug. 8. He weighed in at a healthy 7 pounds, 4 ounces.
The wrestler conceded that he won’t be able to see his family for an additional two weeks due to his commitments to the Olympics.
“It was tough for me, not being able to hold my son yet, but at least I could see his photos,” said Molinaro, NJ.com reported. “I’m really close to Kason, my other son. I miss him too. The first thing I’ll do when I get home is hang out with my kids as much as possible.”
However, Molinaro has relied upon his spirituality and his faith during this particularly stressful time.
“It’s not all about winning the gold medal. I’m going to go home at the end of the Olympics, and I’m going to enjoy seeing my beautiful new baby, my other son and my beautiful wife. I’m very clear on what I want,” the wrestler explained. “I’m very clear that I can win this competition. I believe this has all happened for a purpose.”
Said Molinaro, “Someday, I’ll be able to tell Frank this whole story, and, hopefully, there will be a gold medal involved in it.”
Angelo Stagnaro writes from New York.
For more information on Frank Molinaro and his wrestling career, follow this link: http://www.GorillaHulk.com/.