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Throughout the years, a half dozen female grapplers have gone through Newtown Youth Wrestling Association (NYWA), and some have competed at the high school level. Occasionally, boys in the program match up against female wrestling counterparts, but the athletic activity continues to involve predominately boys and men.
On February 19, NYWA participants — the three girls in the program and boys alike — got plenty of inspiration from a female wrestler who proves that hard work and dedication, along with skill, can lead to success on the mats, regardless of gender.
Helen Maroulis, a 2016 Olympic gold medalist, met with NYWA grapplers and held a question and answer session at NYA Sports & Fitness before autographing posters.
NYWA officials said USA Wrestling (USAW)), the program’s national governing body, has heard such great things about the growth and success of NYWA that Tony Black, director for State Services, who manages grassroots development for USAW, flew in from Colorado Springs, Colo., to see the Newtown wrestlers in action. He was joined by Ms Maroulis, the first American to win a gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the Olympics.
The way in which Ms Maroulis, now 26, got involved with wrestling is an interesting life lesson in itself.
When Ms Maroulis was 7 years old, she shared with NYWA participants, her brother had no wrestling partner. She recalled her mom instructing her to take off her shoes, get on the mat, and serve as her brother’s wrestling partner. Ms Maroulis enjoyed wrestling enough that she wanted to continue. Her dad agreed, as long as she won her first match.
And she did.
“That was the only match I won all year. I went 1-30. I lost 30 matches but I got to keep on wrestling,” Ms Maroulis said.
And the rest is history.
Among the questions the youth grapplers asked was who her toughest opponent has been.
“My hardest opponent is myself,” she responded.
A wrestler asked how many hours she practices per day, and Ms Maroulis gave the youth competitors chances to guess. One grappler said 20 hours, getting a rise out of the parents in attendance. Other guesses included 12, five, and eight hours.
Nobody got this answer right.
“I think a better question is how many of my hours do I make efficient — how many hours do I do 100 percent?” Ms Maroulis said.
The Olympic gold medalist compared the time she puts into wrestling to what they do as students, noting that time to do homework and even sleep to prepare for the next day count toward being a student beyond their time in the classroom.
“You’re still a student 24 hours a day,” she said.
One of the youth wrestlers asked how many state championships she has won. Ms Maroulis said none but, “I did win the only thing I’ve ever wanted to win in my whole life and that’s Olympic gold.”
Ms Maroulis has also won a pair of golds at World Championships, and another at the Pan American games.
A NYWA competitor asked about her trophy collection, which Ms Maroulis said she gives to her parents because “they gave everything to me.”
After asking the elementary and middle school-age wrestlers how many of them drive themselves to practice, a few raised their hands, prompting a few chuckles from parents and participants in attendance.
“Parents are setting up rides for you or doing what they can,” Ms Maroulis said. “I step on the mat alone but I definitely can’t train and practice on my own.”
A wrestler asked what the most weight was that she cut.
Ms Maroulis responded by saying she’s dropped weight at times but, in 2017, decided not to cut weight and be more relaxed about wrestling. It seemed to pay off, or certainly did not hurt, as Ms Maroulis outscored opponents 53-0 in five matches during the World Championships in Paris, France.
“This is the best I’ve ever done,” she said.
One of the questions was what her favorite subject is.
“I like English, I like history. I like math when I’m good at it,” she said. “I love studying opponents.”
With the youth grapplers headed into the postseason competition, NYWA Coach Curtis Urbina asked if Ms Maroulis had any advice on preparing for championships. She asked the up-and-coming grapplers how many of them get nervous before a match. Most of the hands went up.
“I’ve gotten nervous my whole life. It’s okay to have fear. Fear doesn’t have to have you,” Ms Maroulis said. “Nerves are a good thing. It’s your body’s way of preparing you.”
The Olympic medalist talked about the importance of the approach going into competition.
“I’ve won with confidence and I’ve also lost with confidence,” said Ms Maroulis, adding that the one match she went into with total confidence that she would win, she ended up losing. “I’m not here to predict the future. I’m here to create it.”
And for the youth wrestlers to create their own success: “The best thing you can do is just step out on the mat, take a deep breath, and just wrestle,” she said.