2016 Olympic gold medalist and wrestling champion Helen Maroulis chatted with me about her historic win at Rio de Janeiro, and she offered advice for wrestling hopefuls.
On August 18, she bested three-time defending Olympic gold medalist Saori Yoshida in the 53 kg division of Women’s freestyle wrestling at Rio de Janeiro, thus making her the first American female wrestler to win first place in the sport. “That felt amazing. It was incredible and it was really surreal,” Maroulis said, on her Olympic gold medal win.
An equally monumental moment for Maroulis was hearing the national anthem at the medal ceremony. “That was one of the most incredible feelings in the entire world,” she said. “I got very, very emotional.”
Last September, Maroulis won the gold medal in the World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, Nevada, in the Women’s freestyle 55 kg category. “I had always worked hard, but winning the world championship was a confirmation that I was doing things right and I made the right decisions,” she said.
A Maryland native, Maroulis noted that she is motivated primarily by “glorifying God.” While reflecting on the last three years, she admitted that she sees a “lot of growth, a lot of tears, a lot of changes but a lot of joy as well.” “I really don’t see what the medal looks like or being on the podium, it’s really those certain quiet moments, the struggles and the practice,” she said. “Also, the happy times such as travelling to places and the people that have loved me for who I was. I am really thankful that my life is a journey through the sport of wrestling, since that is what I love to do.”
The wrestling queen had nothing but the greatest remarks for former Olympic wrestlers Mark and Dave Schultz, both of which took home the gold medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. “The more that I studied into Dave’s life, a lot of people had great things to say about him, even many many years after his death. People don’t talk about the wrestling moves that Dave did that were good, they really talk about how good of a person he was, and that was really powerful for me, since it’s not about what you do on the mat, but what you do off the mat and who you are, and that’s what people remember and that’s what impacts people, and that was really inspiring for me,” she said, and revealed that she did see the movie Foxcatcher, which was based on the Schultz brothers.
In the little spare time that Maroulis has, she enjoys reading, going to the movies and hanging out with her family.
Speaking of family, Maroulis is half-Greek, and her father was raised on a Greek island, Kalamos, and came to America at the age of 12. “I love going back to the island. I actually got back two nights ago,” she said.
While she is not perfectly fluent in the Greek language, she has made it her New Year’s resolution to become fluent. “I love the Greek-American community. It’s nice. My dad and I are going to eat some Greek food today, so that is always fun.”
For aspiring wrestlers, she said, “You definitely have to work hard, and you have to believe in yourself. You need to accept yourself for who you are, and to give it your all each time you step on the mat.”
Maroulis concluded our interview by defining the word success. “Success means achieving what you defined for yourself to be important. Success is not an end goal in itself, it’s figuring out what you want to be successful in first,” she said. “I knew that I would be happy with myself if I gave it my all, so in that sense I was successful, and I got a medal out of it, which is also awesome.”