All through college, father and son spoke on the phone every night at nine.
"The first thing in my mind was, 'How was practice? You didn't get injured?'" Dan Megaludis said. "You just have those worries as a parent."
For the younger Megaludis, calling home was his way of "catching up." Some calls were about wrestling, others were not. Sometimes a call was mere minutes while others were hours.
In March 2016, after placing second behind Ohio State's Nathan Tomasello at the Big Ten Championships, the nightly communications, predictable like clockwork, ceased without warning.
"After that Big Ten final something clicked between him and I. It was the strangest thing in the world. During that whole two-week period between Big Ten's and NCAAs we didn't talk once," Dan said. "It was almost like God's telling me 'OK, look, it's his time to become an adult. He's gotta own this. You can't win the match for him. There's nothing you can do. You gotta separate yourself right now."
For Nico, the silence was simple. It was about achieving his goal.
"I focused on what I wanted [those two weeks]," Nico said. "The only people I talked to were teammates and coaches."
The next time Dan had a conversation with his son, it was at Madison Square Garden on March 19, 2016, a little after 8 p.m. Nico had just been crowned the 2016 NCAA Champion at 125 pounds, winning the last match of his Nittany Lion career -- a dominant 6-3 decision over Iowa's Thomas Gilman.
"I don't know, it's not even celebration, it's just relief," Nico said to reporters following his match. "I knew I was going to be the champion. It was a done deal a year ago when I had signs everywhere -- my room, Penn State, my room at home, my bathroom at home, my wrestling room at home, my car steering wheel: I am [the] 2016 national champion."
For Dan, the post-match emotions mirrored Nico's -- pure relief that Nico "got that monkey off his back" and ended his career on top.
"We didn't see him [or even] talk to him until he came up and he hugged us [in the stands] after he won," Dan said. "He told the ESPN guys, 'I just want to go see my parents. It was the most emotional thing and I was like, 'Wow, he still loves us.'"
Often sports can create a close bond between father and son. Wrestling did that for Dan and his only son Nico. Today, though, wrestling isn't the only passion that unites a bond between father and son -- it was just the first.
At 5 years old, Nico, went out for the wrestling team -- his first foray into organized wrestling with his dad, a former high school wrestler, as his coach. By his sixth match, one thing became abundantly clear: Nico hated to lose -- a mentality that also carried over into his professional life.
Jody Strittmatter, co-founder of Young Guns, a premier Pennsylvania youth wrestling club, who also coached Nico during his youth, says Megaludis hated to lose even more than he enjoyed winning.
"Even home Scrabble games or Monopoly, whatever it was, we were playing at the house trying to have fun. He'd lose the game and throw the board, run out of the room and say we were cheating," Dan said with a laugh.
Ironically enough, for a wrestler with hundreds of wins on his resume, three individual PIAA championships, one individual NCAA championship and four NCAA team championships, and a smattering of international accolades to his credit, his earliest wrestling memory was a loss -- the first of his career.
"When I was 5, I was 6-0 in wrestling, and I thought I could never lose. I lost in overtime. And, it was like the end of the world. My Dad thought he was gonna have to take me to a hospital [I was so upset]," Nico recalled, with a chuckle.
By age 7 or 8, it became clear he had a future in the sport as he saw continued success in national tournaments.
"I think it's huge to be surrounded by good people in this sport especially growing up," Nico said. "If kids want to be successful in this sport they have to challenge themselves, take themselves to the biggest tournaments and biggest arenas."
Knowing Nico had the most important trait any successful wrestler needed: A disdain for losing, Dan strived to be a better steward of the sport himself.
"What I learned from wrestling in high school [myself] was nothing compared to what I learned from the people I surrounded myself with: Cary Kolat, Sunny Abe, Jeff Jordan, Brent Metcalf and Jody and John Strittmatter," Dan said. "I just became a sponge and I would take it back and teach Nico and the other kids."
With natural talent, elite coaching and a strong support system in place, Nico was poised to begin his prep career at Franklin Regional High School in 2008.
Megaludis' prep career started with a bang. The freshman rattled off 35 straight wins, before losing his first high school match to Mark Rappo of Council Rock South. Rappo, one of the nation's top recruits at 112 pounds, dropped down to 103 pounds for the state tournament. He was able to ride Megaludis out for the entire third period, winning by the narrowest of margins, 1-0, en route to the 103-pound crown, while Megaludis fought to a third-place finish.
To this day, Megaludis wouldn't change a thing.
"[The match] made me the person I am today," Nico said. "There's certain losses that sting more than others. As far as regrets, heck no, I don't believe in that."
It's possible the reason that match is still memorable for the former Franklin Regional star is because it was the only loss of his entire high school career.
"He was self-disciplined. He took care of everything. It's never like we had to force him to do anything," former Franklin Regional head wrestling coach Eric Mausser said. "The morning of his semifinal match, his only high school loss, he's up at 5 a.m. drilling. That's the level of intensity he has."
A self-prescribed Type-A personality, Megaludis would sometimes obsess over what might look insignificant to others, but it's paramount to him.
"I remember he [Nico] beat a kid 14-0 but the kid rode him out for two minutes in the third period and Nico was just furious with himself," Mausser said. "For the next week, after practice, that's all he was doing, working on escaping from bottom. He obsessed over the details."
That obsessive nature and intensity paid off. Nico became Pennsylvania's 47th three-time state champion. He finished his career with an overall record of 170-1, including a 135-match winning-streak to close out his career with the Panthers.
"If you have pressure, it's a good thing because it means you care," Megaludis said. "But I never let it affect me. I mean, I'd get nervous sometimes before a match -- but I like the big matches. I didn't care what other people thought [about my win streak]. I want them to respect the type of person that I am."
For Nico, the fashion in which he won that final state title was more important than the act of winning itself.
Megaludis started his prep career with a bang, and he finished that career the same way. A 16-4 trouncing of Boyertown's Jeremy Minich earned Nico his third PIAA gold medal, ending one of the best prep careers the state has ever seen.
"Everybody called and everybody wanted information on Nico," Mausser said. "But some people knew he was going to a big school, so a lot of the local schools didn't even try."
For Megaludis, it came down to two schools: Iowa and Penn State, just two hours from his hometown.
Megaludis visited Iowa, and he liked what he saw. He explored Iowa City, met Iowa head coach and associate head coach Tom and Terry Brands and watched Brent Metcalf train.
In 2009, though, right in the middle of Megaludis' recruitment, Penn State wrestling sent shockwaves around the college wrestling world when they fired head coach Troy Sunderland in April.
Numerous names swirled around the wrestling sphere as to who the heir to the Nittany Lion wrestling thrown would be. One name not in the early discussion was Cael Sanderson, who experienced great success as head coach at his alma mater, Iowa State. Over his three seasons coaching in Ames, Sanderson led the Cyclones squad to NCAA Division I national placements of second, fifth, and third. He also coached his wrestlers to two individual NCAA titles.
However, on April 17, 2009, he became the head coach at Penn State, and with that, Megaludis' mind was made up: he'd become a Nittany Lion. The chance to be trained by a four-time NCAA champion and Olympic gold medalist was too good to pass up.
"It was actually relatively easy," Megaludis said of his commitment decision. "They [the coaching staff] all came the end of my sophomore year. Before my junior season, I took an unofficial visit, practiced up there, and loved it. I went up [for a second unofficial visit] a month later and committed. It just made sense… [they had] some of the best coaches, I was two hours from home, and it's a great school."
Just as Megaludis burst on to the scene with an impressive run in the state tournament as a high school freshman, he did the same as a true freshman at Penn State in the national tournament.
After placing fifth at the 2009 Big Ten Championships, he put together a stunning run at the NCAAs just two weeks later, losing in the NCAA finals despite being seeded No. 10.
His 4-1 record at the NCAAs was highlighted by redemptive wins. First, he avenged two regular season losses with 7-4 decision over Zach Sanders of Minnesota in quarterfinals. Then Megaludis followed with a thrilling 3-2 double-overtime win over Frank Perrelli of Cornell in national semifinals, again, avenging two earlier regular season losses to Perrelli. Ultimately, he dropped a tough 4-1 bout to Matt McDonough of Iowa in the NCAA finals, but became Penn State's first true freshman All-American since Quentin Wright was sixth at 174 in 2009.
Now it wasn't just Megaludis that expected him to win a national title -- the entirety of the college wrestling world anticipated he'd win one too.
As a sophomore and a junior, Megaludis came close, but was unable to get it done. He was once again a runner-up in his second season as a collegiate -- losing to Jesse Delgado at both the Big Ten and NCAA Championships.
As a junior he finished third at NCAAs.
"I'm not gonna say I took those losses well [at NCAAs]," Megaludis said. "Bu I kinda sulked a little bit, let it soak in and grieved. But there comes a point where you have to say, 'Alright, there's a reason and a purpose for this. Now I have to move forward.'"
In 2015, without injury, Megaludis took a redshirt season, a year where he could focus on the technical aspects of his craft in the practice room.
"Cael never had a conversation with me [about redshirting]. But he knew I was going to redshirt," Megaludis said. "I needed to take a step back and get out of the rat race [of college wrestling] and get better technically."
In 2016, Megaludis' last as a Nittany Lion, he left everything he had on the mat, and finished his collegiate career on top in the world's most famous arena -- Madison Square Garden -- as an NCAA champion.
"Just finally getting it done, wrestling well and taking a little bit of relief off my shoulders," Megaludis said. "You can't beat going out on top with the type of career that I had, being so close multiple times."
With three high school state titles and one NCAA national title to his credit, the only honor left on Megaludis' wrestling bucket list: an Olympic gold medal.
Megaludis visualized wrestling and winning on the international circuit when he was 7 or 8 years old. In high school he put pen to paper and wrote that goal of an Olympic medal down on a goal sheet his high school coaches asked him to make.
"When I was cleaning out my classroom, I found Nico's goal sheet from probably when he was a freshman," Mausser said. "It said undefeated state champion and NCAA champion and Olympic champion. They were always his goals. [He wrote them down in], the worst chicken-scratch you've ever seen."
As a 2016 NCAA champ, Megaludis automatically qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials in Iowa City, Iowa. When asked post-match he didn't tiptoe around his Olympic aspirations.
"Heck yeah, I'll wrestle man," Megaludis said with an ear-to-ear grin. "That was the plan a year ago. This was the first step obviously. I wanted this [title], but Olympic Trials, Olympic champion -- that was what I was thinking about after this."
Megaludis failed to qualify in freestyle for the U.S. Olympic team in 2016 -- at the age of 23 -- but wasn't ready to hang up his wrestling shoes. Toyko 2020 would be his year.
Off the mat, Megaludis would take his business administration and finance degree to his day job as a financial planner at Megaludis Financial, which specializes in estate planning, financial planning, employee and executive benefit planning, and investment strategies. Nico is a partner alongside his father Dan.
Growing up Nico would occasionally go with his dad to a meeting at Megaludis Financial. At the time, he wasn't exactly sure what was occurring in these meetings, but he was intrigued enough to take a deeper dive into the financial sector at Penn State.
"In the back of our minds, we'd always talk about how he was going to be in the firm," Dan said. "I think he always assumed he was going to be, but the back of my mind I thought, 'Is he going to like it?'"
The short answer: yes, Nico loves being a financial advisor, helping individuals and their families to gain financial security.
Their first four years together at Megaludis Financial have been a success, largely because that same dedication and drive to be the best on the mat has carried over into his financial advising efforts.
"When I was wrestling, he knew I had to do what I had to do. I was always disciplined. He never pushed me to the extent of a 'crazy wrestling dad.'" Nico said. "The same thing is true with work; he knows I'm just as disciplined in that. If I have to schedule x-number of meetings, I'm going to do it."
"He is very good at not letting distractions affect [him]," Dan said of his son. If he's going to get on the phone to call 20 new referrals, he will lock himself in a room and do it. Whenever he puts his mind to it, he is incredibly focused at that time."
Nico is also well aware that he still has a lot to learn. As such, just like he turned to his dad to teach him wrestling, he turns to him for financial tutelage too.
"Obviously, he teaches me, I ask questions [all the time]. I'm always learning," Nico said. "We work very well together because I'm very good at things in the business that maybe he wasn't taught."
Still, just as it did in the wrestling room, that competitive nature has followed Nico to the board room too.
Although the transition from collegiate standout to financial services has been a smooth and successful one, balancing work in Pennsylvania, training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs and traveling overseas for competition can be a balancing act.
"I'm not going to lie, it's not easy and I've had to figure this out," Nico said. "[With my business], there's no ceiling, you can do all these things to get better. If I'm sitting at home, I can call 50 or 100 people or learn financial strategies and efficiencies that make me better. But I also have to realize this is my downtime to not think about wrestling or work and just enjoy."
The pursuit of Olympic gold amidst a blossoming financial career at times feels daunting for the 27-year-old, but the experiences he's had along the way have been priceless.
"Just being around some of the best guys in the world, soaking that in, watching their technique and how they train," Megaludis said. "And, also the cultures overseas, just taking bits and pieces of how they live is pretty cool [to experience]."
Despite the balancing act of managing an international athletic career and a professional career in finance, Megaludis has done it superbly, earning a spot on the national team twice, inching closer to earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
Ask anyone close to him and they'll say it's his unwavering drive to be the best coupled with an unmatchable pace on the mat that has allowed his collegiate success to translate to the international scene.
Adversity through injury had been foreign territory for the Olympic hopeful over his wrestling career which now spans over two decades.
But, seven months ago, in July of 2019 that changed as injury struck. He tore the ACL in his left knee, requiring surgery.
The ACL tear didn't end his shot at Olympic gold in Tokyo, but it certainly made it more challenging. In the time since, Nico has rehabbed fiercely.
He found his way back to the mat for light drilling in December of 2019. By January 2020, he ramped up the intensity, less than three months away from the Olympic Trials at his alma mater, Penn State.
On Feb. 13, injury struck again -- the same left knee, the same left ACL was torn again for the second time in less than eight months.
"God has a plan for me and the 2020 Olympics is not in the plan. I accept his plan as it is way bigger than mine. I know there will be good to come out of this for whatever is next," Nico said in an Instagram post five days after sustaining the injury.
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7 months ago on July 19 I underwent ACL surgery on my right knee. It was my first ever surgery and I was devoted 24/7 these last 7 months to getting my knee better to compete and win an Olympic gold. At the same time, I had to shrink my body down to 57kg which I did. I started drilling light in December and then January I really picked it up to a very hard pace on the mat. Since late January my progress was through the roof and I was really happy. Last Thursday I was drilling and my knee again buckled the wrong way and went to get an MRI to find out it is torn again. God has a plan for me and the 2020 olympics is not in the plan. I accept his plan as it is way bigger than mine. I know there will be good to come out of this for whatever is next. At this point I need to sit back and enjoy life as much as I can. I will not be making any decisions about surgery or when I will be back. Just need some time to wind down a little for once in my life. The crazy thing is my body feels better than it did when I was 21 (except my knee lol). I know I am still in my prime. I love this sport and I know whatever this sport has for me, it will be for the good. To finish this long post, I wish whoever is the 57kg USA rep in Tokyo my best and to enjoy every moment of this year. It is a freakin tough weight, and the 57 USA rep will do great. I can only move forward from here and live according to the plan God has in store for me with life, my business, and wrestling career! Thanks for all the support! I appreciate everything!
As for the next steps in his wrestling career, the now 27-year-old Megaludis is still weighing his options, but the COVID-19 pandemic, which has delayed the 2020 Olympic Games nearly a full calendar year, has opened the door for Nico to try to qualify and compete in Tokyo if he chooses.
But wrestling aside, Nico has a plan and a purpose far beyond the wrestling mat.
"You have to enjoy every single second of your life, because you're there for a purpose, whether it's wrestling or work or family time," Nico said. "Make the most out of everything. At the end of the day, I'm not a wrestler, that's not who I am. But I'll always be competitive even when I'm done wrestling. That's never going to leave."