Stanford’s star should earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees and three All-American honors by next spring

Updated: October 11, 2011

Nick Amuchastegui made a name for himself on the NCAA Division I level before he met Iowa State’s Jon Reader in last spring’s championship final at 174 pounds. The native of Talent, Ore., was twice honored with the NCAA’s Elite 88 Award, given to the wrestler competing in the national tournament with the highest grade point average. As he enters his final year of eligibility with two All-American honors — he finished fourth in 2010 and second last year — and a 94-18 career record, the son of Frank and Janice Amuchastegui will look to become just Stanford’s second national champion and finish both his undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering.

Nick recently spoke to WIN Editor Mike Finn about his career at Stanford.


WIN:What has meant more to you: what you’ve accomplished academically or making the NCAA finals last March?

Nick Amuchastegui received the NCAA's Elite 88 Award as the national tournament's wrestler with the highest grade point average last March before finishing second at 174 pounds.

AMUCHASTEGUI: They are both equally important. I don’t see them as two conflicting things. Both things mean a lot to me. I don’t think I’ve ever drawn a distinction that one or the other is more important to me. I spent much of my life trying to be good at both of them. I have time to do both of them and put the training in for both. There is no conflict.


WIN: Could you describe a day in your life during the wrestling season to illustrate how you balance both?

AMUCHASTEGUI: Let’s take a Tuesday for example. I wake up and ride my bike to practice at 6:30 in the morning. After about an hour and a half, I go and get breakfast and do some homework. I usually do about 4-5 hours of homework each day on a weekday. I only have two classes this quarter as a graduate student, where classes take more time. After class, I usually meet up with a buddy or two or girlfriend for lunch. During the middle of the day, I usually get outside for a walk. I can’t work or study all the time or life would be mundane and boring. On the weekends, I’m usually able to get up to the mountains for motorcycle ride or hike. On weekdays, I usually get back for a workout at 2:45 and workout until 6, when I go out for dinner, then do some more homework before heading to bed. What I tell people is that it’s amazing what you can accomplish in 16 hours once you cut out all the crap in your life.


WIN: What point in your life did you figure this out?

AMUCHASTEGUI: As soon as I came here for school, I knew that I had to prioritize things and organize my time well and continue to be good in the things I wanted to be good in.


Amuchastegui reached last year's NCAA final when the Stanford Cardinal defeated No. 1 seed Mack Lewnes of Cornell in the semifinals.

WIN: Did you struggle at first?

AMUCHASTEGUI: I did. My first quarter was probably the hardest couple of months in my life. I missed home a lot. I felt isolated from so many of the things I grew up around. I grew up on a farm and rode motorcycles a lot, hunted and fished and spent a ton of time outside and hanging out with the family. When I came here, that was gone. It was just of lot of work and school. It was very tough on me. It took trying to make the most out of the things I needed to get done and to enjoy them for fulfillment and satisfaction. I knew I had this work to do, I knew that I had to find out time to get out and relax and let my mind rest so I could go back and do those things.


WIN: A lot of families will say young successful people remind them of someone else in their family in developing such a drive. Who in your family would have been like this?

AMUCHASTEGUI: I’m a lot like my dad. He is someone who never graduated from college but that guy, out of all the people I have known, chose to be the best at the things he was good at. He was a manual laborer from the city of Ashland, runs a back hoe and bulldozer or whatever he was asked to do. Before that, he was a driver on the north slope of Alaska working on the Alyeska Pipeline and now he farms. Everything that he does, he’s been driven to be as good as he could be. A lot of that has carried over to what he has given me and my little brother (Luke).  Since we were little, we were taught not to accept laziness out of ourselves or a half effort in anything.  But if we were going to care about anything, we needed to do as good as we could.


WIN: Most wrestling fans can probably understand that mindset as a wrestler, where a drive manifests itself in a physical performance. How have you done it on an academic stage? Is it the same?

AMUCHASTEGUI: School is about being mentally tough. To sit and study and remain focused on something for five hours without getting distracted requires a lot of concentration. It’s just like so many wrestlers who put themselves through crazy things training hard and do all those kinds of things.  Being in school for me has been knowing that I have to be disciplined; that I know when it’s time to study and take it seriously and push myself through it. From that aspect, both require a pretty similar mental aspect. The feeling you get at the end, in one your brain is tired and exhausted and doesn’t want to pay attention any more and in the other one, your body feels terrible. It boils down to the same mindset, the same refusal to settle for less than what you are capable of.


WIN: Can you explain your academic focus? What will you have degrees in?

AMUCHASTEGUI: I studied mechanical engineering as an undergrad and graduated from that last year. I finished my degree in three years and have been working on a master’s degree for a year and a quarter and will be done with it this coming spring. In the master’s program, you have a different focus within mechanical engineering. For me, it’s been thermodynamics, which is having to extract work from systems; how to design things more efficiently. The other focus I have is called mechatronics, which is all the knowledge you’d need to build something like a remote-controlled plane from the ground up. It’s the blend of computer science, a little bit of electrical engineering and a little bit of mechanical engineering. That’s the focus I’m in this year.


WIN: When you talk about developing efficiency and how to make things work better, haven’t you done that with your time at Stanford, considering you will have finished your undergraduate and master’s degree in your five years there? Aren’t you a model of efficiency?

AMUCHASTEGUI: The definition of efficiency is that you get out a lot of what you put in. Well, I’ve put a (heck) of a lot in. I did get something out of it and got it done quick, but I’m not sure how efficient I’ve been.


WIN: You have a unique last name. What is its origin?

AMUCHASTEGUI: It’s Basque, it’s ethnicity. The Basque people do not have a country. They live in a little region called Andorra or Euskara, which is in between Spain and France in the Pyrenees Mountains. They are one of the most ethnically-pure races in existence today. They’ve been there since before the Romans. They pre-date the Greeks, the Chinese; one of the oldest-known cultures that is still intact. They speak a language that is not related to any other language. The have some strong ideas of their identity and are very proud of who they are and yet they don’t have their own country. There has been some strife between them, Spain and France.

WIN: When did your family come to the United States?

AMUCHASTEGUI: My great grandfather came here when he was a young man and came to a little town in Idaho to herd sheep. That is what most of the Basque people came to America for and ended up in more rugged, desert areas where there was a lot more ground to raise sheep. They had my grandfather in a small Basque town called McDermott in Idaho. My grandfather was also immersed in Basque culture.


WIN: Since your last name is somewhat hard to pronounce, did any of your teammates give you a nickname?

AMUCHASTEGUI: In high school, they used to call me Mooch. In college, they call me Moocho.


WIN: Finally, what would winning mean an NCAA championship mean to you?

AMUCHASTEGUI: Winning would be a wonderful accomplishment, but the reason why I’ve wrestled 16 years of my life has not been to just win some championship. It’s been about the process and about what it’s made me become. I feel that I am very confident about winning that national championship. But my goal today and tomorrow will be to work as hard as I can and become the best that I can. When that championship match comes around, hopefully this year, I would have a better answer then. But as far as now, my focus is on today training.