Story by Ryan Kryska
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University started as a place to play soccer for Carlos Macias, but it ended as a place to call home.
Macias emigrated from Venezuela in 2001 and went on to earn three degrees, start a Salsa dancing club, teach Spanish, work a landscaping job and meet a soulmate at GCU.
The land of purple and purpose was a final destination for Macias, who before arriving at GCU bounced between states in hopes of finding the right fit.
“Grand Canyon has been a blessing for my life,” Macias said. “GCU has great people who have been helping me through my journey.”
Macias said he left Venezuela with $60, “a bag full of clothes and a lot of dreams.” It took him six months of selling shoes, clothes and working at Wendy’s to save enough money for the plane ticket he had been waiting for his entire life — the chance to better the situation of his family, who lived in a country torn by corruption and violence.
Macias’ first stop was Arizona Western College in Yuma, where he would take classes, play soccer and drive to Phoenix once a week to also play for the semipro Arizona Sahuaros, previously coached by former GCU coach Petar Draksin.
“That was very scary, especially the first day when I was at the dorm by myself,” Macias said. “When I just got in the room and no one was around and because of the political situation of my country, in my mind I was like, ‘I will never see my family again.’ … But that was the first day.”
Macias said the move to Yuma was like culture shock. He had taken an English class in Venezuela to prepare for communicating but quickly realized he didn’t know many words.
“It was like the Charlie Brown teacher,” Macias said of his first-semester classes. “Second semester I forced myself to take regular classes. So I pushed myself very hard and I went to bed at 12 to 3 in the morning and tried to speak more English.”
Macias’ next stop was Bethel University in Tennessee, which led him back to Arizona to attend GCU and play for Draksin again.
Macias has been in Lope country ever since and has created a life that makes his mother, Maria Abello, extremely proud. She lives with Macias, his wife, Amanda, and their two children, 5-year-old Elena and 2-year-old Lucas, in Goodyear, where Macias teaches and coaches soccer at Millennium High School.
“If he had something in his mind, he had the determination to do it,” Abello said of her son growing up. “He would say, ‘One day I’m going to be big and I’m going to do it by myself.’ So it makes sense that he made it here by himself.”
Abello raised Macias on her own in the outskirts of Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas. She sent him to a private Christian high school, one that Macias said was the best in their area.
“My mom got divorced when I was 2 years old, so she was a single mom,” Macias said. “I’m very proud of her. She helped me. She did her best. … I feel very happy that I can pay back her because she did a lot of sacrifices. When I was doing my doctorate she was battling cancer, so even through that she helped me to raise my two kids.”
Macias shined on the soccer field and at 17, he began to play professionally. He said he applied to nearby colleges for three straight years while playing but was not accepted. And then in 1999, the “political situation started getting very ugly” in Venezuela, leading his family to realize they had to leave. Most of them moved to Spain.
“The problem is if you go to the supermarket sometimes you don’t find things. Sometimes you don’t find meals, sometimes you don’t find bread,” he said. “So it’s a very bad situation. People are dying in the hospitals, starving.”
Macias reached out to a friend playing at the University of Missouri and earned a tryout in Caracas with a recruiter who connects players with U.S. colleges. Out of the 70 players who tried out, three were offered scholarships. Macias was one of them — and he credits a specific church service as the reason his life changed so drastically at that tryout.
“I remember that was December 2000 when I went to a celebration at the church to celebrate Jesus being born, there was one message that got in my head so strong about how God opens doors,” Macias said. “My mindset changed after listening to that message from that pastor.”
Finding his pitch
At GCU, Macias finished his bachelor’s degree in Spanish and physical education. He stayed for his master’s degree in education and recently earned his doctoral degree in education. He met Amanda through a Salsa dancing club he started at GCU.
“My life has a purpose and every single part of my life I see how God has opened and closed doors,” Macias said. “The teachers here at GCU have been like my family. I had the opportunity to invite people from here to my wedding. … They have been so humble and given me so much support. They were able to support me not only academically but spiritually.”
Macias said he started teaching Spanish at GCU after receiving his master’s degree, but his daughter inspired him to do more — so he pursued his doctoral degree.
That ambition also led Macias to expand his spiritual outreach. The church he attends is frequented by Major League Baseball players during spring training. Macias volunteers by leading the Spanish service for the Kansas City Royals.
“I felt so special being able to connect them to God,” Macias said. “This has fulfilled more of my life. Not because it’s Major League Baseball players, but because I’m serving. He knows what you need and He gives you what you are missing.”
All the while, Macias continues working to elevate his coaching career to the next level. In July, he became certified to coach professional soccer by none other than GCU men’s soccer coach Schellas Hyndman.
Macias just happened to run into Hyndman on campus one day, and the former Major League Soccer coach invited him to his Premiere license coaching course in Denver.
Hyndman said the former Lope player “was one of the sharpest in the course.”
“He was there for one purpose — to get better and make his players better,” Hyndman said. “He is somebody that is important to GCU.”