Published January 13th, 2017 by Helen Maroulis
Since Rio, life has been a whirlwind.
I was really waiting for some time off to reflect on everything that had happened in the past couple of months. I’m thankful I finally got that time to myself. I loved my life before the gold and I've enjoyed my life since then.
I would hope that at the same time being relevant with media and attention isn't just from the standpoint of how it serves me, but what my message is. It makes it really rewarding and valuable to have a purpose bigger than one’s self. I want to promote the sport of women’s wrestling, and I want wrestlers everywhere to believe in themselves.
Let me recap on before the Olympics then. Yes, it was probably the most stressful year of my life, but if the biggest stress I would face came in the form of chasing my lifelong goals, then I realize I am living a very blessed life. Gratitude is an amazing tool to combat stress. While trying to enjoy the stresses of preparing for the Games, I often get asked about my hardships on the road to Rio. You know what's interesting? I kind of grew up with anxiety, and for a majority of my career it hadn't been a good thing. My faith has played a huge role in wrestling over the last couple of years. I learned how to work hard for my goal while also surrendering it to God daily. I would tell myself “all the hard work you put in, that must be a given. That will not distinguish you from your opponents. You must still step on the mat and show up.”
In order to show up, I surrender the dream right before I wrestle. I wrestle for God, and that frees me to not change anything about what I do, whether I’m wrestling a tiny local tournament or on the biggest stage in sports. What was a weakness at one point, actually, turned into my strength. Because of my anxiety and my tendency to overthink and over-analyze, I learned to use that in a positive way to study my opponent. I looked back at my matches from the Olympics and I saw the faces of my competitors. I was surprised with what I saw. “Everyone looks like they have another layer of tension,” I thought to myself. I was kind of used to wearing that face my whole life though.
At the Olympics, however, there was no tension for me just pure joy. It’s funny how since I was eight years old I have been saying I want to win the Olympics. My motivation had also been about accomplishing that goal. Yet, before Rio it stopped being my goal. I knew in my heart that more than winning, my real goal was just to look back in five years and say “I gave it everything I had”. This I knew I could be happy with that. It wasn't about needing to win because I had to prove that I am good enough to be a champion, it wasn’t about any of that anymore. I hope in sharing this, wrestlers who face any fears or doubts will find comfort in knowing that they can choose to compete for the love of the sport instead of others or their own expectations on themselves.
In closing, here is what I journaled days before I competed at the Olympics:
“I haven’t said it yet, maybe because I am always focusing on what I can do better,but I need to pause now and say that I am very proud of myself. I am proud for accepting every battle and challenge. I am proud of myself now and I will be proud of myself come August 19th. When all is said and done I will hug my family, thank my coaches, cry tears of joy because I know God will have given me the desires of my heart. I know this because He already has. The Olympics is one day for me, a gold medal placed around my neck is only a moment, but through all of this God has given me things that will last a lifetime. Everything I learned on this journey--these tools, the values and habits, the fruit of the Spirit--are my true reward for all of this. They will serve me in life a lot longer and better than any medal.”