SportsInsight Episode 10 – Helen Maroulis

SportsInsight Episode 10 – Helen Maroulis

MUSIC Hi everyone I’m Cliff Elgin and this is Sports Insight. Each year in MCPS classrooms and locker rooms our student athletes are encouraged to set positive goals that are challenging and require a stretch. Goal setting help students build the capacity to tackle the ever increasing challenges they face. Helen Maroulis set an ambitious goal for herself as a second grader she wrote down that she wanted to be an Olympian. And in 2016 she achieved that goal and joined the US Olympic wrestling team in Rio de Janeiro. And on August eighteenth she became the first American to win a gold medal in women’s freestyle wrestling. When Helen returned home from Brazil she went back to where her dreams started, Cashell Elementary School, and shared her story and her gold medal with the young dreamers. (Applause) As the school year began the staff at Cashell Elementary held an all-school assembly to welcome Helen Maroulis home. We had an opportunity to have her come and visit and without any delay we were absolutely grateful that she would be willing to come and visit with us here today at Cashell. I started wrestling when I was seven years old. obviously I wasn’t sure if I could become an Olympian but I wrote down that I wanted to be one. My career was able to find the success it had because I had so many women that were role models for me and so I know how much of an impact that can have and so you know to think maybe if I bring my gold medal and maybe if a little girl gets to hold it and that inspires her to want to chase after her dream I mean that’s amazing. And so I love that and I take great joy in that. Helen shared her olympic gold medal with the students so they can hold a piece of American history in their hands. Its value is in what it means to me and everything that I did to achieve it. I hope that in holding and feeling its weight and just seeing it, that you guys, it inspires you to choose a dream and to go after that dream for yourselves. What I think really is very powerful about having Helen here with us today is her message. Her message about perseverance, her message about determination her message about having a goal very early on in life and never letting anything get in the way of that goal. So she was a great example of purposeful intentional lifecourse actions in order to achieve a goal that she set for herself so long ago. And after the assembly Helen sat down with some fifth-grade students and answered their questions. How did it feel to beat another world champion? You know what I wasn’t focused on my opponents and who they were, I was focused a lot on who I was and I was like, you know what, I can’t determine what they’re going to do I can’t predict what moves they’re going to hit so I need to focus on myself and be the best person I can be and I just want to give everything, just my best ability and if that is enough to win then awesome. Were you nervous when you fought Yoshida? I’ve won 63 straight matches in a row now and I’ve been nervous before every single one of them and so you know it’s, when you’re going for something big obviously you’re going to have some fear and I was very nervous but just because you’re nervous doesn’t mean you still can’t win. And you know what, I’m not afraid to lose these next four years because I know that my goal is a 2020 Olympic gold medal and if I have to lose 10 20 30 times in these next four years to learn from those mistakes or from trying things from taking a chance and trying new moves or trying new techniques and if I lose that’s fine, because it’s part of the process and the process is that all these things I’m you know, willing to work on so that in 2020 I’ll be ready. And with us in the studio today is Helen Maroulis. Helen went to Redland middle school here Rockville and then Magruder high school where she wrestled until her senior year when she moved to Michigan to join the U.S. Olympic education center. In college Helen was a four-time national champion and she has been on team USA since 2008 and now as an Olympic gold medalist, Helen has been traveling the world as a wrestling ambassador. Thank you for joining us today Helen. Thank you for having me. And also with us today is Max Sartoph who also wrestled during his high school days at Magruder and Max graduated from Penn State University and return to MCPS where he has been a teacher and wrestling coach at Rockville and Magruder high schools. Max coached five different state champions and it was Max and his assistant Kevin Phelps who coach Helen during her three years on the wrestling team at Magruder. So Max welcome to Sports insight. Thanks for having me Cliff. And I also have to say Max is a co-worker of mine at Clarksburg High School, we’ve got to get Clarksburg in there as well. Yes. So Helen I want to start with you as a youngster because I read the article that you wrote for Sports Illustrated and I found it fascinating to be honest with you that you were that kid that cried in every field and every court in every sport you you tried, and you said it was out of fear, but then wrestling sort of found you so talk a little bit about the fear and I know you helped your brother, and how you got into the wrestling. Yeah so I was really bad at every sport I ever did and you know my brother had just joined wrestling and there weren’t enough kids on the team of my Mom didn’t make him quit so one day she just told me to jump in there and you know after two weeks of all these hard workouts uh I went to my parents and said it’s not fair you know, the boys get to compete and I don’t so my Dad just knowing my track record with you know being shy and insecure and not really being great at than any other sport said okay fine I’ll let you wrestle one match and if you win you can continue for the rest of the season, and so I didn’t think that he or anyone else expected me to actually step on the mat by myself facing another boy, you know with everyone around the mat watching but it was like as soon as I stepped on the mat everything else just got zoned out and I think that’s what really helped me to also zone out my fears so wrestling really taught me a lot. And I want to talk about your Mom, she mentioned something she did in that story which I find is amazing and tough to do as a parent, I can imagine she saw you at one of the practices and she could see that look in your eyes and she just kind of walked out of gym and said you’re on your own, and it’s not in words, but she went to the car correct? Yeah so umm, when I, before high school I was on you know a junior, I guess I call it like a belt league program and we knew that this was a really really good coach and we wanted to work with him and it was kind of like the first day of practice and you’re you’re getting tested and I didn’t even have a partner and I remember going to the coach and he said you know tough luck, find your own partner. And I was walking over to my mom who was sitting on the edge of the mat you know with all the other parents and I was about to cry and I’m like Mom I don’t have a partner, and she said I can’t help you, and she walked out and so it was umm, yeah it was pretty cool. Turns out right decision by Mom right? Yeah. So 2001, the IOC (Olympic Organizing Committee) announces they’re gonna have women’s wrestling in the Olympics and I guess that’s a seminal moment your life, I mean all these things got to fall in place for all this to happen to win a gold medal and that’s one of them. Was that’s… was that something you guys looked at as a family and said boy this is something we can really continue on and on with? Aah I don’t know if it was that decided early on but I just remember I loved wrestling the first year that i did it and then after my parents came to me once the season ended in back then it wasn’t year-round so you know it was what, February to April or March or whatever and my parents said okay you know, enjoy your summer but we’re just letting you know you can’t wrestle you know starting next season because we don’t want you to get attached and love this sport and and then grow up what, wrestling boys in high school for what purpose? And obviously it would make sense to spend my energy elsewhere you know trying to get scholarships in a different sport or any college opportunity or just anything else that was going to give me a future and so I think when women’s wrestling got added to the Olympics my parents came back and they said all right you know there’s a future for you if you want to keep going. And I don’t think they really ever knew if it was going to directly be the Olympics again, I was still scared little girl, I just happened to be a scared little girl that enjoy wrestling and, but I think they realized okay maybe down the road they’ll be a college scholarship for her or there will just be something and if that’s you know as best as it gets that that’d be great but in reality I mean what actually ended up happening was just completely life-changing and, in so many ways more than one, even if wrestling never became an Olympic sport and without the gold medal like it still would’ve had a humongous impact in my life just from the values it taught me through hard work and toughness just kind of revealed a lot of me to myself of what I was really capable of achieving and pushing through so either way wrestling was going to be a great asset for me but I think having it be an Olympic sport is what made it ok for my parents to allow me to continue in it. So Max let’s get to you and as we were both longtime coaches and county different sports but we usually know what young talents coming up as they’re entering into our high schools in ninth grade what did you know about Helen she was entering Magruder’s a ninth-grader? I knew that Helen was talented. I knew she was coming in a new she had some talent. Umm, the fact that she was female I guess if she was the first female I ever coached that may have been a strange situation but luckily I had coached females before that. You even had a female on your high school team when you wrestled. Yes when I when I wrestled in 1988-89 yeah, quite a while ago, I don’t know if she was the first girl to wrestle in the county but she was one of the first to wrestle in the county, so so I had experience with a girl on the team and my coach at the time let us know that that she was to be respected and treated just like everybody else. So when I first started coaching at Rockville I had a girl come out for the team and so I was already familiar with a girl being on the wrestling team so that was okay by me. I had no issues with that. This girl actually she never wrestled a match. She came to every single practice, I think she was scared and nervous to actually get out on the mat but but she came to every practice and she worked just as hard as everybody else so it, at that point I decided you know what, anybody that shows up to my practice room and can make it through a practice they deserve to be there, so when Helen came we knew that, that she had talent, we knew she had experience so we were just excited to have her as a part of the team. And you obviously were wrestling boys going up through the youth leagues and you get to high school and it’s it’s no different and then your first year you make the state tournament, I guess that was a big deal correct? Huge. I mean you placed sixth as a freshman? What do you think? Yeah I guess so. You just probably expected the success right? No. If a freshman boy placed sixth that would be amazing right? And here’s Helen coming in, a freshman girl and placing sixth in the state tournament, it was amazing. I want to come back to Magruder in a second I want to ask specific questions but I want to go on this issue with, you know, you’re a female wrestling against the boys and now you’re an ambassador for the sport. Is the goal to to get this more popular for the females obviously and eventually maybe get to a point where even as in the youth leagues in the high school leagues you can get female wrestlers, wrestling against females or do you enjoy wrestling against the males as you’re coming up? What’s the goal as an ambassador? I mean yeah, I guess as an ambassador in the sport my goal is just to have as many kids male or female be exposed to the sport. I think people have never denied that it’s been a great sport for the boys for whatever reason sometimes I think that’s not the same for the girls and I’m just I think an example that wrestling taught me all the same values that it taught any other boy and so for parents who maybe hold their daughter back from experiencing that, it’s just I wish they would just give it a chance but I understand that as of right now there’s not as many opportunities for girls to get involved or if they do it has to be on a boys team and so my goal long term is just whatever it takes to get a girl on the mat you know for me was stepping on the mat with boys that I didn’t care I just you know wanted to get better but obviously for my parents it would have been easier for me to join have been an all-girls team and so I just want to grow women’s wrestling across the nation so right now I think we have seven to ten states with all sanction girls wrestling programs and so you know in California Texas Hawaii they have state championships for the, for the women and umm, I would love to see that here in Maryland and just all over the US and globally I mean you know I’m doing a lot of stuff with United World Wrestling and it’s just amazing that in you know, Senegal in a village there’s, there’s wrestling for girls, in you know South Africa in Thailand in Vietnam you know and in all these places all over the world there’s wrestling programs for girls and then sometimes it seems like it’s harder to start a program in my own hometown in the U.S. Right. Yeah it’s amazing. See I’m learning so much Max. Now Max, I want to ask you a question about her and you’re gonna have to talk about Helen a little bit and so we… sometimes as coaches we get asked about umm, you know what makes this person successful. I was fortunate enough to coach Paul Rabil for one year in basketball in high school before became one of the best lacrosse players in the world and some other players that went on to play division one basketball and I tell them you know there’s lots of people with that same talent but it’s always the work ethic, it’s the desire it’s the goal setting some of them have that when they come to us in high school already some of them develop it. When Helen came in was it there from day one or is it something you sort of develop as she came through? That’s a good question I think that it’s been there with Helen, I think she had it day one. I think for most of them that is the truth. She’s so focused I mean I try and think back about you know stories about Helen in high school and I don’t have stories about… She’s not skipping practice or… No! She’s not getting in trouble like I never had to worry about Helen in that sense all, all I remember is just how focused she was and how important wrestling was to her. She had some back issues I think it was your freshman year and I mean she really struggled with that but that didn’t keep her from practice that didn’t keep her from working out that didn’t keep her from striving towards her goals so she’s always had that focus and and maybe even some kind of tunnel vision. He mentions goals how important goal setting to you? It’s extremely important, umm. It’s funny to hear someone’s view of me on the outside and to me… for me to know personally… Because you get so wrapped… Yeah well for me to just know personally what it was like I mean I don’t want to paint the picture that I was this high school student that it was like all or nothing for wrestling and I didn’t have a social life or I never made mistakes or anything because you know growing up that that wasn’t the case I remember Oh I just really want to go this high school dance, but I have practice, I really wanna do this with my friends but I’ve practice and so sometimes the decision wasn’t always easy or it wasn’t like, Oh I just know I’m meant to be a wrestler so whatever you know I… I also still wanted a social life and all those things but I think at the end of the day when you love what you do it’s easier to make that sacrifice and so so I don’t remember myself being like that, as focused maybe on the outside it showed but… or maybe you know I always made the right decision but the internal conflict wasn’t always like you know I’m not a robot and I still you know wanted to do some fun stuff but I never regretted doing a practice or doing a extra training or you know sacrificing certain things for the sport. What you said in the end of the clip that we watched at the beginning show I really like that you’re not afraid to fail and if you lose 10 or 15 times umm, that’s okay because you’re going to learn from it to win ultimately and that’s a message that educators we love hearing you say this as Olympic gold medalist because, Max and I were talking, we wish we could show that to every parent of every student that comes through because especially in this area there’s a lot of pressure on students to do 4.0’s and to do this and to do six million activities and they almost don’t ever let their children fail, but you’re coming out and saying that that’s okay because we can learn from our failures so thank you. Please thank you for saying that. Tell more people. Yeah tell more people that because it’s really a message we need to get across. All right I want to ask couple not funny but interesting questions I think. What was more satisfying winning the Olympic gold medal or knowing after you won the Olympic gold medal you can break your training in your diet you can go eat whatever you wanted to eat? Well definitely winning the gold medal because I was going to break the diet after anyways whether I won or lost so the gold medal made it better. I had to know that because… i know with wrestlers you guys are such strict diets and the nutrition is unbelievable part of your lives. Peppermint patties were a special treat for her back in high school. My… My like tunnel vision and focus in high school is… like… the last couple years it’s like on a totally different level than then, I thought I knew what I was doing dieting then but yeah I really experienced it these last two years. Now I want to ask about the relationships because you two have a great coach relationship and unlike what a lot of people may think coaches we do care about our athletes and our players might think oh you guys are so mean and nasty to us. But we love to see you grow and become wonderful successful adults. But how nice is it to look at the stands in Rio and see this guy sitting there along with Coach Phelps and others? It’s, it’s incredible the coaches you know Max Sartoph, Kevin Phillips umm, Mike Sarno… my first-ever coach Bob Kristen, you know every coach has gone to like my you know, my world championships when they were in Vegas and in Rio and and that means a lot to me and I think, maybe the difference with me growing up as a female wrestler in a male-dominated sport there were a lot of coaches that didn’t support me being a female wrestler there are a lot of coaches that it didn’t matter how much talent I had it really didn’t matter how hard I work they made up in their mind that I wasn’t worth their time or that they just didn’t want me to be here and so I think that makes me appreciate the coaches that did support me that did believe in me that did poor energy and time and resources into me all the more I think sometimes as athletes when we’re very talented and you know we work hard those are like pretty much the two recipes that any coach wants to work with you and so I grew up a lot of times like hey I have talent and I’m working hard but you know I this person doesn’t want to help me and so I think that just gives me a different viewpoint now just looking back that there’s no way that I would have made it through my career without the support from every single coach that I’ve had, because if at any point if you know if I’d gone to high school and these coaches were trying to make my life a living hell and they were you know trying to get me to quit like I might have you know or maybe I just you know we have distracted me or taking away from all the things I gained in high school that helped propel me into my career moving on so. And sometimes you did have to go to bat for her against other coaches correct? Sometimes, yes sometimes yes. Because people would they didn’t want to put out another wrestler against her. Yes. And I was kind of surprised like I said, 15 years earlier we had a girl wrestling in the county. Right. So here it is 15 years later and there’s coaches that will not send a wrestler out against Helen even though the guys over there, he’s got a singlet on he’s ready to go. He made weight is ready to go. Right and… and you know in a way I understand okay yeah that kid’s ego is fragile and if he loses to a girl oh my gosh maybe its end of the world but I always felt like, you know what, I’m the coach and that’s my job to get this kid through wins and losses and Helen was one of our best wrestlers at the time and so I would turn to a coach and say, I send a kid out against your best wrestler it’s not fair for me to not give that kid an opportunity to step out on the mat and wrestle. So whoever the kid is, Helen deserves that respect. Right. It happened a couple times during her freshman year and then not really much after that. But I told a coach hey ok now I see how you are next year I’m going to bring a lineup full of girls and I’ll beat you, because he won’t send anyone out on the mat. He didn’t really like that. No. I think it’s a great response though. But again I think that… like I said that happened during her freshman year. I think coaches got a lot of respect for her that year, coaches got to see her wrestle and and after that I believe that coaches and wrestlers look at Helen as a wrestler as opposed to as a female. Right. And so I think she I think she earned a lot of respect freshman year and and I think that changed some coaches mind that same coach the rest of the time that we wrestled against them sent a kid out to wrestle against her. He learned a lesson too at that time. I like to think so i like to think that Helen changed a lot of people’s minds. Well, group effort. Group effort? I don’t think i could have walked up to the coach and said something. That’s what he’s there for he has to take your back. But you you did the important part, you went out there and did all the work. You earned that. It really is the easy part for him. It is. I’ll tell you what’s not easy though, and you don’t understand this yet because you’re still the competitor and I want to ask him about this, the hardest thing as a coach or spectator is to watch you all compete because we don’t have any control anymore once you’re out there. I mean, you must not have any nails left at in Rio it was… It’s hard! Yes oh my god. And he is sending updates on Facebook and text messages and we’re all just… and I know he was just going crazy. Listen, there was a second, my heart dropped into my stomach I’m like oh my gosh I hope this is not end but you were focused you kept wrestling and you won that match. I tell you, it was, it was definitely exciting sitting there in the stands. Yeah wait till you, wait till you’re done. I hope it is not for a long time but when you got to watch its… nobody can explain to you how hard it is because when you’re in control it’s easy, your training, you’ve done what you’ve done. Yeah I’ve done some, a little bit… I don’t like, I mean I love coaching but it’s like not the same and yeah it’s really hard to I don’t like and to watch someone cut weight, it’s different it’s like the most miserable thing when you do it, but when you watch someone do it it’s like almost worse because you just feel for them and there’s nothing you can do. So I can only imagine how… A couple more things I want to touch on before we finished just umm, it probably wasn’t a difficult decision but you spend your three years at Magruder and then you get the opportunity to go out to the US National Training Center… no problems at all just get out and go or did you have a little conflict there? Probably harder to leave family maybe than it is to leave school? I you know… I umm… I come from a Greek family and we’re really close but I don’t know I i got more homesick in like the last three years and I did when I first moved away. Umm, I think for me I was so focused on the wrestling aspect that it wasn’t hard… It wasn’t… I don’t know I mean I remember telling my friends and umm, I had a boyfriend at the time and I remember when we first started dating I told him like I just want to let you know, you know, wrestling comes first, then you know my friends and then you, and I remember when I told him that i was moving away for my senior year and he was like I didn’t, you know when told me wrestling came first like I didn’t really think that you meant it. Like well I did, so… You were honest. Yeah I, I aah, Again umm… I don’t, I think you have to follow your passion and it’s not an easy journey and some of the decisions you like kind of they seem crazy but I just always had the support of my family I mean I obviously would have never moved away from home if they didn’t let me if they didn’t support me and umm, support from my coaches and support from friends from teammates so, but I mean, it, everyone supporting my dream makes it really easier to make those decisions. So you mentioned the journey, let’s kind of wrap up talking about that you’ve already mentioned in the piece, Japan 2020, right that’s, is that the goal as a right now? Yeah. Yeah? Yeah. How have you enjoyed the last few months off? Aah it’s… I know you’re not off but – not as rigorous training. Yeah it’s been different. I think… gosh it’s been challenging me in different ways so you know before Rio I mean that the training that I was doing that sort of been used to you know that’s what I was used to doing my whole life I mean ever since I was I think 10 I started wrestling around so that’s what I knew, and I think to go from just secluding myself for the past two years and just really I didn’t come home that often I never I never saw people when I came home I mean I would come home for just to rest, decompress, stay in my room you know just work out and then that’s it you know, I didn’t even come home for Thanksgiving for the last six years so it’s just been really different to go from that and then the tournament is done and you’re just now not training but you’re talking to people, you’re meeting new people every day and I’ve had some amazing experiences and I met so many great people and then I look back and I’m like that was a week and that was like five different events, and it’s, so it’s been really really cool and it’s also taught me a lot about myself, now that I don’t have like my life structured and it’s like oh I’m not as disciplined as I thought, like, I just sleep in if I don’t have practice and so I like… I can imagine the discipline is gonna kick in again fairly soon correct? So it’s been… I think it’s been good you can’t umm, my journey, it was definitely a marathon it’s not a sprint and so yes I checked out the last two months and umm, it took awhile to get out of the discipline mindset like I remember coming home from Rio and running sprints in my backyard because I want to get ready for 2020 and then it was, it took like weeks to be like wait, we’re not training for something this is supposed to be the break. And so now I’m in break mindset and I’m trying to get back into the training mindset and it’s like oh but it was so much fun to sleep in and eat cake whenever I want and so umm, again to switch into those modes doesn’t happen in a heartbeat you know I’m not a robot and so it’s um I’m just being patient with myself and forgiving with myself that it will take time to get back into that but. I think you’ve earned a little bit of time off. Two months is fine. Max, 2020, Japan, you going? Heck yeah! I started saving up money already! He was actually in London when I was in London as a training partner and I remember umm, you bought your ticket before the trials. I was hoping against hope. But I figured either way a trip to the Olympics. So that’s dedication. And that also goes back to your not afraid to fail, you know, 2012 didn’t work out for you. Yeah. But 2016 couldn’t have worked out any better. Losing in 2012 Olympic trials aah, especially when I had not lost to an American and I was favored to win and all these things that it was new for me to be in that position and so when I lost I didn’t, I didn’t handle it well and I remember a coach said to me, the national team coach was like, how you act as the number two is going to speak a lot more than how you act as the number one. And it taught me a lot about myself because it’s like, of course I can be a great teammate when I’m the number one and I get my own training partner and I’m you know, aah, practices are geared towards me but when you’re the number two year the alternate and no one’s asking you how you’re feeling if you have an injury well tough luck you’re here to train somebody else you’re here to help someone else get a medal that you thought you were going to go for. I think that is what helped and made the biggest difference in my journey through 2016 so, when people ask me do you wish you made two Olympic teams? Absolutely not. Because had I not lost in 2012 i don’t think I would have made all the changes I needed to make for 2016 and that’s why to me failure is so important and I think you can look at any athlete and there’s, there’s aah, you know, there’s no method, there’s aah, no formula to winning. I can’t tell you if you do this this this you’re gonna win. I’ve seen people that work so hard that do all the right things and they still don’t win. And we don’t always have an explanation. And so I think when you make winning the end goal you’re, on some level, you might even if you win you might come up short because I just think there’s a bigger reason for sports and that’s what it teaches you about yourself. So aah, you know 2012 I was wrestling to win, in 2016 I was like I don’t want to look back and realize that I never enjoyed the one thing that I was good at and that I love doing, and it just freed me to go on the mat and have fun and if you watch any of the matches from Rio me against all my opponents I mean you can look at our faces when we’re walking out and I just had a level of peace, umm. I just had peace every single day. I didn’t feel any different the first match then I did the last match I mean I was just really happy all day. That’s the absolute perfect place to end, it’s just an amazing message right there and like we said that’s a great way to end our discussion today. I want to thank you both for joining us here on MCPS sports insight. And Helen, we thank you for sharing your life story with young people across the country and around the world. We’ll be watching and rooting for you as you progress towards the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Thanks again so much. Thank you. And Max, I guess I have to thank you. Thank you for your dedication to MCPS students in the athletic programs for over the last 20 years. Thanks for watching everyone, I’m Cliff Elgin, and I’ll see you on the next episode of Sports Insight. MUSIC

3 Replies to “SportsInsight Episode 10 – Helen Maroulis”

  1. oh man i think she is a genial wrestler but what does she have from it did she get alot of money??? i dont think so or not?? and than she has a boyfriend and really she say to him wrestling and friends comes first and than you… well i will say to her i wish you alot of fun with your wrestling in your new single life i dont wanna have a girlfriend who really dont cares about me. she is really an egoistic person i can see that but i dont think you can live from wrestling tournamets i mean alot of ufc fighters cant live from fighting and they have much much more followers than a wrestler. i hope for her she wakes up one day. wrestling is a cool sport but it is a sport and your realationships have to be first because if you need help or you get sick or something wrestling doesnt help you. i think mommy and daddy paying her bills because she really doesnt live in reality im pretty sure she hasnt work a single day in her live yet

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