Maroulis, Snyder, Cox receive Living the Dream Medal Fund checks at reception in New York City

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Nov. 15, 2016, 5:39 p.m. (ET)
Living the Dream Medal Fund Stewards in attendance pose with U.S. Olympic wrestling medalists Kyle Snyder, Helen Maroulis and J’Den Cox in New York City. Photo by Justin Hoch.

With the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil still fresh on people’s minds, the wrestling community came together in New York City on November 9 to celebrate the medal-winning performances from Wrestling Team USA.

The Living the Dream Medal Fund, led by a group of donors who are called Stewards, provides wrestlers with the highest level of individual bonuses of any Olympic sport in the United States. Most of the stewards were on hand during a special social event at ACME Downstairs in Manhattan. The three Olympic wrestling medalists from the USA were on hand to receive their payouts during a big check presentation.

The total awarded on Wednesday night was $525,000, with Olympic champions Helen Maroulis and Kyle Snyder receiving $250,000 each and Olympic bronze medalist J’Den Cox taking home $25,000. Former National Team Greco-Roman star Dan Russell was the emcee for the evening.

“Tonight is realizing that dreams got birthed in Rio for young boys and girls all over this nation. We have some great champions who I think represent us really well,” said Russell.

USA Wrestling past president James Ravannack, who led the organization when the Living the Dream Medal Fund was created in 2009, welcomed the athletes, Stewards and special guests.

“It was a pleasure during my tenure as president with the great successes of our teams. The Living the Dream Medal Fund has been so significant for our athletes. It all started back in the day when Stan Dziedzic started a Multiple Medal Fund. He guy who really pushed the Living the Dream Medal Fund has been Mike Novogratz and he has done an unbelievable job. It is great to be with these special athletes we have here tonight, to see them live their dream, and financially get them where they can go on for another medal,” said Ravannack.

Mike Novogratz, a founding Steward of the Living the Dream Medal Fund and the Freestyle Team Leader for the 2012 Olympics, had a vision for helping reward the U.S. medalists for their performances. He has been a driving force in bringing together the team of Stewards who make this program a reality now and for the future.

“The great thing about the wrestling family is that it really feels like a family. Dave Barry and I, when we became Team Leaders, decided we wanted to do something to inject a little energy into the sport. We came up with this idea for the Living the Dream Medal Fund. The first couple of years, there was a small group of us and we made it through the first cycle. We started thinking it was not really the way to run a fund like this. What we wanted to do was to open up the tent and expand the brotherhood. We went on a really hard mission the last 24 months to bring new guys in. My idea was simple. If we had 20 guys who gave 5% each, that kind of community of supporters will stay around for a long time,” said Novogratz.

Presenting the big check of $250,000 to Olympic champion Helen Maroulis on behalf of 2016 Women’s Olympic Team Leader Kyra Barry was Dave Barry, a Founding Steward and the 2012 Olympic Greco-Roman Team Leader. Maroulis was the first American woman to win an Olympic wrestling gold medal.

“I am presenting the check to Helen Maroulis. I have been to many World Championships the last six years, and I am honored to see her grow from a little champion to a big Olympic champion. I was in Guadalajara (Mexico) when she was 19 years old winning the Pan American Games. She had a setback in the Trials for the London Olympics, and redoubled her efforts to come back and win this gold in Rio. She is a true warrior and has one of the greatest hearts I have ever seen. She is literally a hero to me. Helen is, at every single level, very impressive,” said Barry.

Russell asked Maroulis about what wrestlers helped her catch the Olympic dream.

“I started wrestling at seven years old. After my first year, my parents wanted me to quit because there wasn’t a future for me in the sport. A month later, they announced wrestling would be an Olympic sport. The thing I wanted to do most almost got taken away because there wasn’t that pinnacle. A couple of years later, Terry Steiner, the Women’s National Coach, opened up the first Olympic camp to anyone. I was a 13 year old and I had no business to be training with the first ever Women’s Olympic Team. I had no qualifications and was getting my butt whooped. But it was one of the most inspiring things I have had. At 13, I got to live at the Training Center for a month and watch how these women train and how hard they worked and what they were sacrificing. I saw it for myself. In other sports, unqualified 13-year-old girls are not allowed to train with Olympians. It was truly life changing,” said Maroulis.

Andy Barth, a LTDMF Steward and 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Leader in freestyle, gave the introduction of Olympic freestyle champion Kyle Snyder, the youngest Olympic wrestling champion for the USA in history.

“I would love to tell everybody about how I had a long time watching Kyle mature and Kyle prepare, but the fact is that this has been an incredible 20-month run for Kyle Snyder. It has just been amazing. I am sure someone else has done it but I can’t think of who that is. In 2015, Kyle reached the NCAA finals and finished second. Less than six months later, he wins his first World Championships ever. He was the youngest American to ever win a World Championship. About six months later, he wins what many people consider the greatest NCAA heavyweight final. What can you do to top that? I guess you go out, win an Olympic gold medal, and become the youngest American to ever win a gold medal. I am honored to give this check to a mature young man. I didn’t have to watch him mature. I think he was born mature,” said Barth.

Snyder talked about how his Olympic dream was born and developed as a youth.

“I started wrestling when I was five years old and I played football as well. My first goal was, growing up, that I wanted to be in the NFL. I soon enough realized that I was not going to be tall enough or big enough to be in the NFL. I figured I would check out what the biggest thing you could do in wrestling is. That turned out to be the Olympics. In 2008, it was really the first time I watched the Olympic Games and it was pretty cool, with Henry Cejudo becoming the youngest Olympic champion at that time. It was the first opportunity I had to watch. I continued to wrestle, train and I watched the 2012 Olympics and watched Jake (Varner) and Jordan (Burroughs) with their gold medals, which was real inspiring. At the same time, I was thinking, shoot, Jake is in my weight class and I am going to have to beat this guy out in a few years to make the Olympic Team. I have always loved the Olympic Games. I have always admired representing our country, whether it was at the Olympics or in the military service. It’s a special thing,” said Snyder.

Presenting the big check to Olympic freestyle bronze medalist J’Den Cox was Koz Semnani, the president of the Semnani Family Foundation, a major supporter of international wrestling and a LTDMF Steward.

“I am here because of two individuals who support the sport of wrestling, Jim Ravannack and Andy Barth. I am from Iran. I was never a wrestler, but I have always loved wrestling. One thing I can tell you. International wrestling can not happen without international involvement. In America, we love wrestling. I am from Iran originally, but I have been here 46 years. In 2013, I learned that wrestling was maybe being eliminated. In Iran, wrestling is more than a sport, it is a way of life. It is an expression of charity, an expression of fairness, an expression of knowledge. It is really an honor to be involved in wrestling in the United States,” said Semnani.

Cox talked about his Olympic dream and how it grew within him over the years.

“I started at the age of four and that was really my passion, what I wanted to do. At a young age, I knew wrestling was in the Olympics. As a kid, my coach came to me and asked me to write down my goals. I wrote down that I wanted to be a state champion, a four-time national champion in college, thank you Kyle for ruining that for me, and I wanted to be an Olympic champion. I knew that was the highest peak I could reach. I always felt that if I was going to do something, I would do it to the best of my ability,” said Cox.

There was an opportunity for all of the Stewards to pose for pictures with the 2016 Olympic medalists.

The Living the Dream Medal Fund Stewards include Dave Barry, Andy Barth, Jim Bennett, Dave Bunning, Jamie Dinan, Stan Dziedzic, Art Martori, Dave McCormick, Jack Moses, Mike Novogratz, Koz Semnani, John Smith, Rich Tavoso, USA Wrestling and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

A special photo was also taken of all of the Olympic wrestling champions in attendance. Joining Kyle Snyder and Helen Maroulis in that Olympic gold photo opportunity were Dan Gable, Steve Fraser, Bruce Baumgartner, Kendall Cross and Brandon Slay.

Including the 2016 Olympic Games rewards, the Living the Dream Medal Fund provided exactly $1 million to 20 U.S. World and Olympic medalists during the 2013-16 four-year Olympic Quadrennium. During the 2009-2012 Olympic cycle, the fund awarded $750,000 to U.S. World and Olympic medalists. Combined, this amazing program has given our medalist wrestlers a whopping $1.75 million over eight years.

A highlight of the evening was a musical performance by J’den Cox, who sat at a piano and gave the attendees some “freestyle singing.” Cox asked the people to shout out a theme, and he improvised with a spontaneous song about the topic. It was tremendously entertaining and fun.

VIDEO: Click here to check out J’den Cox doing freestyle singing

USA Wrestling President Bruce Baumgartner, a four-time Olympic medalist and nine-time World medalist as an athlete, wrapped up the evening.

“I want to thank the Living the Dream donors. I want to thank the work and the effort of the people of the U.S. Wrestling Foundation who did an awesome job. We are here honoring three great athletes. J’Den, you are an awesome talent in wrestling. Helen, you inspired us being the first female Olympic gold medalist for the United States. No one will ever be the first except you. Kyle, I want to thank you very much for being here tonight. Andy, usually, people say the best NCAA heavyweight match they witnessed was the 1980 Bruce Baumgartner, Lou Banach match where he pinned me. Thanks to Kyle Snyder, I am off the hook,” he said.

“I was talking to Steve Fraser, who was with me at the 1984 Olympics, about how much wrestling has changed. In 1984, if somebody wanted to give me a $100 check so I could have a meal with my wife or to train, we couldn’t take it. We had to give it to USA Wrestling, they had to cash it and we had to send in receipts for our training expenses to get that money. That is how much wrestling has changed. It is absolutely awesome that we can support our athletes like we do with the Living the Dream Medal Fund. I am hoping in four years we are here in New York City honoring 18 Olympic medalists,” he said.

The Living the Dream Kickoff event was the first of a series of Victory Tour events, organized by the U.S. Wrestling Foundation in partnership with USA Wrestling. It is currently an eight-city public relations tour to share the values of wrestling on a mission to Raise America’s Greatest Generation. These inspirational evening socials will feature the toughest people on the planet - our Olympic and wrestling greats, heroes from the military, sports champions, stars from movies and entertainment and some very special guests.

The next Victory Tour event is set for Thursday, November 17 in Washington, D.C. The tour will also visit Kansas City, Mo., Lancaster, Pa., Seattle, Wash., St. Louis, Mo. and Dallas, Texas, culminating with the Second Annual Gala Celebration in Los Angeles, Calif on June 15.

For more information on the Victory Tour, visit
uswrestlingfoundation.org/victory-tour.html