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Helen Maroulis On The Importance Of Women’s College Wrestling And How It Shaped Her Life

By Helen Maroulis, 2016 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Champion | Feb. 16, 2017, 3:09 p.m. (ET)

Helen Maroulis poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on March 9, 2016 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

 

Helen Maroulis is a nine-time U.S. national team member and three-time world medalist, who in 2016 defeated 13-time world champion Saori Yoshida of Japan to earn Team USA’s first women’s wrestling Olympic gold medal.

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I was honored to be part of the first-ever Women’s Wrestling Week in 2015 and I am honored to continue celebrating it two years later. For the first celebration, United World Wrestling created the “Super 8” campaign, and I was chosen as one of eight ambassadors worldwide for the project. Ambassadors were asked to organize an event, clinic or activity in their home country to promote the sport.

When I asked my national governing body, USA Wrestling, for help they immediately jumped on board making it a priority to celebrate this great week and promote women’s wrestling. They have continued Women’s Wrestling Week annually since. This year’s Women’s Wrestling Week is focused on the history of women’s college wrestling.

As the week is underway, it has been great to be reminded of the many milestones that the sport of women’s wrestling has reached. Reported from the federation, “USA Wrestling set a record for women members with 11,582 athletes, an increase of 18.6% over the previous year. The National Federation of High School Associations also set a record for girls high school wrestling participation with 13,496 athletes, an increase of 17.4% from the previous year. USA Wrestling set a record for the number of entries at its major women’s wrestling national competitions with 2,001 entries, an increase of 24.2%. Finally, six new colleges added women’s wrestling teams for 2016-2017 season.”

The latter milestone of adding six new college programs is a tremendous accomplishment, and one that should be discussed further. I mean, why are we all wrestling anyway? Yes, of course it is to make an Olympic team and achieve those dreams. However, every wrestler understands that there are only a maximum of six Olympic spots up for grab once every four years. Even without ever reaching Olympic success, we appreciate the values and traits that wrestling instills in every individual who participates.

I know firsthand it has changed my life and helped shape me into a tougher, more confident woman.

Still, there was no way my parents were going to let me wrestle if there weren’t any college opportunities available. Women’s wrestling being added to the Olympic program back when I was 8 years old was the reason why they let me continue to pursue the sport. They assumed if it’s an Olympic sport now, then there will be college programs for it shortly in the future. That's every parents hope, right? For their child to receive an education and get a degree. True, yes, but not in the way we had hoped. Both of my brothers attended the University of Maryland and I know that my parents silently hoped I would stay closer to home for my studies as well.

Maryland did not have women’s wrestling, and so I was forced to choose which I wanted to pursue. As of right now, the Women’s College Wrestling Association is the governing body for the sport on the collegiate side. There are 30 colleges in the league, each with around 30-plus members per team (by their third year). New colleges are continually adding a women’s wrestling program, which is great to see.

For myself, I knew wanted to get a good education and I also really wanted to wrestle. After moving around for two years and trying out some wrestling programs in Missouri and Michigan, I finally found my dream school in Simon Fraser University. The university was in British Columbia, Canada, though, and is the only Canadian school competing in the WCWA league.

As far from home as I was, I knew this was the place for me. My three years at the school and with wrestling were amazing. I loved training and being on a college team. My teammates will be lifelong friends. I grew as a person — from being a freshman learning time-management and other skills from my seniors to being an upperclassman myself and paying forward those lessons to the incoming class.

I had an amazing experience at SFU, but I understand not everyone wants to attend school in another country. There may be other challenges also, like giving up the opportunity to attend an Ivy league or state school for wrestling. I see where the struggle lies. Education is the most important tool for boys and girls everywhere.

It is amazing to celebrate WCWA college programs with women’s wrestling. Looking ahead, my goal is that women’s wrestling will be added to NCAA D1, D2 and D3 schools nationwide. The sport continues to grow amongst so many hurdles. Therefore, I believe it is only a matter of tie before a majority of colleges and universities add women’s wrestling — I believe they will be glad they did.

Click here for a list of the women's college wrestling programs.