Hawaiian-born wrestler mobilizes Hawkeye community

by Emily Nelson

The strongest and most supportive people Nanea Estrella knows live in Lahaina, Hawaii.

The University of Iowa wrestler attended Lahainaluna High School for four years, boarding in her adopted community about an hour west of her hometown of Makawao, in upcountry Maui.

“They always accepted me as one of their own,” Estrella says. “I’ve done so many fundraisers in Lahaina that made it possible for me to compete nationally. The people will always stop you on the street and say hi and ask how your family is doing. People see you out and they’ll buy you breakfast. Everybody has each other’s backs, and everybody knows everybody.”

After the deadliest U.S. wildfire in more than 100 years burned through Lahaina on Aug. 8, killing at least 115 people and leveling homes and businesses, Estrella says she was blown away by the support she—and Lahaina—received from her newest community.

“It means the world to me to come back and feel the support from Iowa and feel that Hawkeyes really want to help,” says Estrella, who will compete this season for the inaugural Hawkeye women’s wrestling team. “They’re giving me the same support that Lahaina gave me when I was younger. It kind of gives me a little reminder of home and makes me feel so confident in my decision to be here. I’m just so grateful.”