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Helen Maroulis Creating A Following In Women's Wrestling

By Nick Forrester | Nov. 17, 2014, 8:57 p.m. (ET)

Helen Maroulis competes in the 55 kg. competition at the 2014 World Wrestling Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, on Sept. 10, 2014.

Helen Maroulis poses at a photo shoot prior to the 2014 World Wrestling Championships.

PHILADELPHIA -- Shortly before the start of the NWCA All-Star Classic earlier this month, 3-year-old Juliana Joshi — sporting her NWCA All-Star Classic t-shirt and a pink bowtie in her hair — ran around in circles in a corner of the wrestling mat.

When Joshi stopped for a second, she saw Helen Maroulis — the No. 3 ranked wrestler in the world at 55 kg. — walking over to her corner. The toddler’s eyes lit up, and she ran to Maroulis, leaping into the wrestler’s arms for a hug. The youngster had never met Maroulis before, but Juliana’s mom, Jennie Joshi, said her daughter idolizes the Maryland native and hoped to meet her.

“She loves Helen. It was like her meeting Tinkerbell,” Jennie Joshi said. “Helen’s such a role model for women in wrestling, and she (Juliana) just loves wrestling.”

After Juliana Joshi, who is from Morristown, New Jersey, talked to Maroulis about her wish to wrestle once she turns 4, the two briefly wrestled together.

“She was so cute. She sat in the front and watched wrestling the whole time, so that was cool to see,” Maroulis said. “I know it’s sometimes hard for parents to let their daughter start up in a sport, especially in a state where we don’t have all-women’s wrestling, so just to hear that she’s going to get that opportunity is really cool.”

The smiles from both sides continued after Maroulis’ dominating 10-0 technical fall win over Jillian Gallays from Canada — the No. 4 ranked wrestler in the world and 2014 world bronze medalist at 53 kg. Just 30 seconds into the match, Maroulis took Gallays straight to her back with a fireman’s carry dump, which was followed with three takedowns, to win by technical fall 10-0 with just one second left in the first period.

As Maroulis wrestled, Juliana Joshi’s eyes were glued on the match, barely taking time to blink. Afterward, Maroulis went up to Juliana Joshi and gave her a high five.

“Helen won and they put her arm up,” Juliana Joshi said after the match. “I said congratulations, and Helen said thank you.”

This was Maroulis’ first match since winning the bronze medal at the world championships in September in Uzbekistan. Since that competition, Maroulis spent time with a small group of U.S. wrestlers in Russia, where she picked up some new technique.

“You always try to learn from different countries,” Maroulis said. “I’ve been working on a lot of new stuff the last couple of weeks when I was in Russia, so it was a great match to use some of it. I think having this match was good because it helps me to gauge what my conditioning is like, and my body’s got to get used to competing again because I took some time off.”

Because of all of her accomplishments, Maroulis has become a face of the sport, and not just to 3-year-old girls.

Even though the NWCA All-Star Classic featured some of the top collegiate wrestlers in the country, Maroulis was at the center of the attention for most of the evening. After her win over Gallays, Maroulis struggled just to finish her media interviews because she was constantly interrupted by fans wanting autographs and pictures.

“It’s really humbling because I know where I started, and there were a lot of obstacles growing up wrestling all guys,” she said. “So for me, I had older women I could look up to in the country that were wrestling in the Olympics and were paving the way for me. 

“That was really important for me to have as a young girl, so I just want to give that back to these young girls.”

Maroulis — a two time world championships medalist (silver in 2012 and bronze this year) — returned to Russia on a tour with the U.S. women’s national team, where they competed at the Open Cup of Russia. Maroulis claimed the gold medal and finished with a perfect 5-0 record in Novocheboksarsk.

As the calendar year begins to wrap up, Maroulis and the other wrestlers know they are now in their final year before the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Even though Maroulis doesn’t want to look too far ahead, she’s confident she’ll be ready for the ultimate goal in 2016.

“I had never been to an Olympic trials before 2012, so I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Maroulis, who finished second to Kelsey Campbell and missed out on an Olympic berth. “Now I have a lot more knowledge, experience and maturity, so I’m excited for 2016, and I’m going in with a lot of confidence in the coaches, the training program and myself.”

Nick Forrester is a New York City-based writer. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2012 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.