Remember The Wrestler: Manolis Galanakis, Nodaway Valley ‘00 (RIP)… Commentary Provided By His Brother, Mario and His Mother, Joni I know a lot of you know the Galanakis family out of Greenfield, Nodaway Valley! Parents, John and Joni as well as their children, Tony, Mario, Manoli, Maria, Gabe and Dino. They are a very well-liked family in the Iowa wrestling community. I’m sure a large percentage of wrestling fans in Iowa know and/or remember Mario Galanakis, a 2002 graduate from Nodaway Valley. Mario was a 4X placer/JUCO National Runner-Up and D1 National Qualifier for the Iowa Hawkeyes. He was one of the best of his era and undoubtedly a crowd favorite. He had a TON of fans… some who didn’t even know him, just liked watching him. He was a pretty big deal and interestingly enough, while he had a household name for many fans, for me, it took a long time to not think of Mario as “Manolis Galanakis’s brother.” That’s how big of an impression Manolis left on me the one time I ever encountered him. Manolis was Mario’s older brother. He and I wrestled once. He beat me in the consolation semis at USA State as a third grader. I remember my match with him vividly. He was a total HAMMER who had a response for everything I threw at him and it was just impossible to score points on him. He beat me by a few points and I remember thinking to myself while walking off the mat, “well that kid is a future star.” And to my confusion, I never saw him again after that. I never even saw or heard the last name, “Galanakis” again until 3-4 years later when Mario beat one of the best guys in our youth club, Chris Johnson (WB-ND) at AAU state. He reminded me a lot of his brother. INSANELY tough to score on and equipped with an even more dangerous, not to mention, lightning-quick offense in his arsenal. Just an incredible wrestler similar to how I remember Manolis. It was obvious that “Manolis Galanakis’s brother” had a bright future and I was right about that. And Manolis played a huge role in Mario’s successes on and off the mat. Here is what Mario had to say in an interview for an “Inside The Rivalry” article I wrote a couple years ago about growing up wrestling with Manolis:
MARIO GALANAKIS: I wrestled for the first time when I was four years old. My older brother, Manolis started doing it when he was five and I was immediately on board. My dad didn’t know anything about the sport at first so it was always my mom waking us up at five am traveling to all the local little kids meets. A few years went by and Manolis and I were making a name for ourselves around the area. My dad caught the wrestling bug and started making my mom stay at home so he could take us. We were both very successful at a young age. We both made it to state every year. The best I ever got was second at state, losing to Trent Paulson. Manolis always did really good at state tournaments too. Having my brother, Manolis as someone to look up to and us two always trying to out-do one another is something that I believe made us both very good! We were both very competitive with each other, but always the biggest fans of each other. We wanted each other to win every bit as much as we wanted ourselves to win. He made me tougher and had some funny tactics in making me that way, but they worked! I remember if he thought I wasn’t working hard enough, he’d call me “Marsha,” and that’s all it took for me to get mad, shape up and start training like a mad man.
So what was it that for the Galanakis boys to fall in love with wrestling to the point where it became literally a part of their identity? Obviously, their father must have wrestled, so he got his kids to do it, right?! WRONG… The Galanakis boys got started with the encouragement of their mother, Joni. This is what Joni had to say about raising her boys as wrestlers:
JONI GALANAKIS: I was introduced to wrestling at a young age by my sister Vickie. She was married to a man named Doug Abel and would have to drag me to wrestling meets if she wanted to go because my mom and dad were strict. Anyways, Mike Abel, Doug’s younger brother, was the most awesome kid to watch out there. He was the most loving, kind-hearted person I knew. Their brother, Jeff wrestled too, but Mike was the best on and off the mat!! God rest his soul, Mike passed in a freak sledding accident. So when I had 5 boys, because of how much I loved watching Mike Abel wrestle along with the good-hearted people wrestling produces, I decided to introduce my boys to wrestling. And immediately, Mario and Manolis loved it. And they impressed people right away. My brother in law, Danny Hayes said Manolis was a natural. He was really good and the sky was the limit for him. Anyways, that’s how I started loving wrestling and because of me liking it, that’s how the Galanakis wrestling tradition started…and it all gets traced back to Mike Abel.
If it’s one thing that Joni’s brother-in-law, Danny Hayes knows more about than almost everyone, it’s wrestling. So for him to refer to Manolis Galanakis as a natural, that’s a huge compliment coming from him. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought that.
DAN HAYES: I saw Manolis make a future 2X state champion/NCAA D1 Runner-Up come to tears many times when they were kids!
So when I started seeing Mario make waves at the youth state level, every year I would look around for Manolis and I never saw him. I figured that he just quit… A lot of good kids do. Sadly, Manolis‘s journey was much more tragic than that. When I was a Sophomore in HS, one of Mario’s best friends at Nodaway Valley named Kirk Whipple moved to Mepo and became one of my own best friends. He filled me in on everything there is to know about Creston and Nodaway Valley wrestling. Naturally, one of the first questions I ever asked him was, “what ever happened to Manolis Galanakis? He was an awesome wrestler who just vanished.” When I asked that, Kirk’s facial expression indicated that I had just inquired about something that wasn’t good. He told me that Manolis had gotten into a terrible accident while he was in Greece and almost died. The accident was so bad that impacted what he was able to do physically and it also changed his personality and behavior due to the damage done to his brain.
JONI GALANAKIS: Manolis was in Greece working and he fell two stories off a building. He was hurt extremely bad. He was actually pronounced dead at one point and the doctors encouraged us to pull the plug and take him off life support, but I wouldn’t accept that. I made the decision to travel to Greece myself and I stayed with him in the hospital for 3 months. He ended up regaining consciousness so I brought him back to the USA. Manolis was so damaged from the accident, that he had to learn to walk, talk, pee, poop, etc. all over again. He couldn’t feel pain, he didn’t know if something was cold or hot. He couldn’t cry. He couldn’t do a lot of the things he used to be able to do. He did graduate with his class, though. He worked hard for that. The worst turning point in his recovery was when he went to a dentist and the guy put him on Vicodin. This ended up multiplying his problems and eventually led to his passing in 2003. He was 20 years old.
When Manolis passed away, Mario was competing in college and naturally, the loss was so catastrophic to him that he had to take a break from wrestling for a while.
MARIO GALANAKIS: I took a year off my second year, though, for my family endured a catastrophic loss. The week before regionals, my brother Manolis lost his life. He and I were close and had so many wrestling memories growing up, that it was hard to see a wrestling mat without thinking of him and realizing that this person, my brother, who meant the world to me…was gone. I had to take a break.
The wrestling world lost a good one when Manolis passed. If he hadn’t gotten into the accident, there is no telling how much hardware he would have brought home from wrestling events. He was so talented that the sky was genuinely the limit for him. And by all accounts, not only was he great on the mat, but he was a great person off the mat as well. Here is what his mother had to say about Manolis as both a person and a competitor:
JONI GALANAKIS: We called Manolis “ice cube.” He was a stubborn lil baby right off the bat, but when he got a little older, he did a U-turn. He was a skinny lil’ thing. When he was in jr. high, I had to make him eat ice cream and steak and noodles to get UP to weight! He was the most loving, kind, thoughtful and caring lil boy you’d ever meet. He hated bullies. He would always stick up for any kid that was poorer, chubby, etc. We got called a lot from school because Manolis would always stick up for the less fortunate and get in trouble. It didn’t matter the bullies’ size, Manolis would take em’ on and that started at a young age and it continued all the way until the end! Also, he loved racing four wheelers and family time, but wresting was his favorite! And let me tell you, there was NO MERCY on the mat when Manolis wrestled! Even if he had to wrestle a friend he wanted to be the best wrestler and he set high standards for himself. He was a very, very quick learner. He loved teaching Mario new moves and was alway eager to go to practice! He learned a lot from his uncle Danny Hayes. The boys started wrestling when they were 5 and 7 years old, which was when we owned a nightclub. Sometimes I didn’t get off work til 3 am, which made for a long day when you had to drive 2-3 hrs to wrestle, but was sure worth the loss of sleep for me when I saw their lil faces light up on the mat. And big brother, Gabe didn’t mind. He loved watching them and cheering them on. And as for lil sis, Maria, she learned fast that she had to go and basically didn’t have a choice, but to like it. Manolis was not a good loser but he never threw a fit. He’d shake the hand of the kid and the other coach and then you wouldn’t see him for about a half hour after for he would just contemplate about why he lost. He loved to win and he loved to see his team and family win. He was always was there for Mario, coaching and screaming for him all the way to the end. Manolis got to wrestle in high school his freshman year before his accident and he didn’t do too bad! Teammates; Bill Brown, Tom Martin and Aaron Benton loved Manolis as they were seniors and loved his enthusiasm. Manolis was full of piss n’ vinegar and if you ask anyone to this day, they will say that Manolis was an awesome young man! Manolis was in 7th grade and probably weighed a tiny 65 lbs. Anyways, there was this kid that had to wrestle a girl and his weight was 170 and he refused to wrestle her. Then Manolis begged the coach to let him and the coach said, “Manolis your gonna get smashed!” Manolis bugged him until finally he gave in! Manolis put her in a Saturday night ride and that was it, she didn’t wrestle again! Lol, poor lil girl manolis was like, “I told ya, Coach!” 😆 😆😆
Manolis Galanakis… although his life was tragically cut short, the impact he made was felt by many and the positive influence he had on people in his short time on this earth will always remain…
MARIO GALANAKIS: The bond we had was as strong as a brother’s relationship can possibly be. He will always be one of the most important people in my life and I would not have been the wrestler I was if it weren’t for him or the man I am off the mat.
JONI GALANAKIS: Wrestling was extremely important Manolis. And he worked so hard at it! After his accident, he always said, “Mom, if something ever happens to me, I want my wrestling memories to not ever be forgotten! I’m sure Mike Abel and Manolis wrestle in heaven from time to time!
As a guy who competed against Manolis and remembers vividly how tough he was, I must say, it is an absolute honor to help keep Manolis’s legacy alive. He was a warrior!