Kyle Snyder made a lot of history in the last 14 months or so.
He became the youngest U.S. wrestler to ever win Olympic gold, and the youngest to win a world title. Along the way, as a sophomore at Ohio State, he won the 2016 NCAA title.
And according to him, he’s just getting started.
“I am going to compete for a long time, a very long time,” he said. “As long as my body can do it, I will.”
Snyder’s will, skill and dedication fuel his achievements, and the U.S. Wrestling Foundation’s Living the Dream Medal Fund helps smooth the way, with the largest bonuses to athletes within the U.S. Olympic family.
On Thursday evening in New York City, Snyder and fellow Rio gold medalist Helen Maroulis were honored with a special presentation of $250,000 bonus checks. Olympic bronze medalist J’Den Cox accepted a check for $25,000.
“(The Fund) started as a way to keep these wonderful athletes in our sport,” Andrew Barth, an honorary chairman of USWF, said. “It allows them to earn enough money to train, to stay in the sport they love and not look for other means of support, whether that’s moving on to ultimate fighting or otherwise leaving the competition arena too soon.”
Barth wrestled for four years as an undergraduate at Columbia University and went on to represent the New York Athletic Club in international competition. Now the Chairman of Capital Guardian Trust Company, he is a longtime supporter of USA Wrestling and co-founder of the Titan Mercury Wrestling Club.
“Kyle would like to be recognized as one of the all-time best wrestlers, and the Living the Dream Medal Fund allows him to do that, allows him to have the money to devote himself to training,” Barth said. “Wrestlers don’t feel like they’re missing out, unable to support themselves in the future.”
The fund was tailor-made for athletes like Snyder, who won Olympic gold in the 97 kg. freestyle class. He hopes to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Games and beyond.
“Winning Olympic gold didn’t dampen my fire at all,” he said. “It’s a great achievement but I still love wrestling. I feel I can get a lot better at it and that’s my goal.”
Snyder isn’t sure how he will invest his award, although he is considering purchasing a condominium in Columbus, Ohio. His thoughts are already on repeating as world champion at the 2017 World Wrestling Championships, to be held in Paris next August.
“I’m training pretty hard for it,” Snyder, who turns 21 on Nov. 20, said. “I have a lot of matches before then, I have a competition in Iran the first weekend in December, and I’m also wrestling in college this year. Every once in a while I take a day off and come to events like this, but I’m back in training and I feel pretty good.”
Post-Rio life has been a bit different for Maroulis, who won Team USA’s first-ever Olympic women’s wrestling gold in the 53 kg. freestyle class. The 25-year-old Rockville, Maryland native has accepted practically every media opportunity that has come her way to spread the word about women’s wrestling.
“For me, growing up having to fight just to be on the boys’ wrestling team, and now here I am, getting this check, is incredible,” Maroulis said. “Women’s wrestling, especially in high school, has been one of the fastest-growing sports for girls, and that’s even with not having a lot of state-sanctioned programs.
“The past two Olympic cycles were the social media Olympics for people to reach out and see sports men would usually (dominate),” she continued. “When you see it, you can be it. Girls see women wrestle and find out there are scholarships, there are opportunities.”
Like Snyder, Maroulis hopes to compete at the 2020 Games, and credits the Living the Dream Medal Fund with helping to make it possible.
“This check has now given me an opportunity to go another four years,” she said. “I didn’t want to be 30 years old by the time I retired and not have certain things set up for my life, because I obviously can’t wrestle forever … I would love to stick around the sport as long as I can and maybe be a coach.”
Her immediate plans include preparing for a grand prix tournament in Siberia in January.
“My immediate plan is to get back in shape,” she said. “I gave myself these two months (since Rio) to spread the word about women’s wrestling, now I have to take care of myself and get back in training.”
The 21-year-old Cox, winner of the bronze medal in the 86 kg. freestyle class in Rio, wasn’t sure he would be able to attend Wednesday’s event. The two-time NCAA champion for the Missouri Tigers is preparing to compete with his team this weekend.
“Like Kyle, I’m still in college,” Cox said. “I’m going to focus on getting graduated and focus on the last season with my team. I’m glad I could come tonight, it’s good to know you’re supported, you’re loved.”
Cox’s sights are squarely set on gold in 2020.
“Of course, that’s a long time away, a lot of things can happen,” he said. “But I plan to continue training and my goal is (to win) Olympic gold and join Kyle and Helen.”