Helen Maroulis is an Olympic Wrestling Champion. She is a woman. She is strong. She is breaking boundaries... and guess what? She is afraid.
Being an athlete at any level, comes with its share of unsaid and said positives and negatives. As children, we are introduced to athletics and play for the fun of it, the social aspect, and because our parents tell us too. We idolize older, successful athletes, usually in our respective sport in hopes we will someday become like them. I remember when I was young starring at my poster of the 1999 USA Women's Soccer Team who won the World Cup. I remember thinking about the girls on the team as heroes, who can and will always overcome adversity and come out on top. I strived to be like them. And now, I mind blowingly and humbly find myself competing for the same country as them: USA.
In this "Sports Illustrated" article, Helen Maroulis addresses the elephant in the room for so many who compete in sports at a high level: We have fears too. People may or may not see them, from teammates to coaches to family. But fear is there and it absolutely has meaning.
Helen's words flow in her in-touch and for me, highly relatable piece of her soul she shares with us. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts:
1. Her Opening and Addressing the Reader:
"But there’s something even truer that you won’t see. It’s a secret. Something you can’t Google, until now.
Come close; I’ll whisper it to you…
'Helen... How are you possibly afraid?’ And now you’re judging me. Maybe you think this admission is a plea for attention. Maybe you’re questioning my true strength, or my courage. Maybe you think my accomplishment was just plain luck.
Or maybe, just maybe … you will say, ‘Me too.’"
2. Tough Love
"Desperate, I ran to my mom and said “no one will work with me.” Heat rushed to my cheeks. I felt my eyes well up. My mom knew it. She saw it in me. And in a surprisingly stern tone, she looked at me and said, “Helen, I can’t help you.”
Then she stood up, and walked out the door.
It was cold. It was callous. It was exactly what I needed."
3. Everyone Has A Story
"To all of it (the haters), I now had a response. And things were good; things should have been good. But inside I was tortured, especially at night. I still often find myself staring when the darkness is too loud replaying my insecurities. They swirl in my head like ghosts in a dark room. Darkness is still the one opponent, I can’t take down."
4. Accept Fear
"When I pretended to be fearless, I learned I was closing myself off to my creative side. For me, the mat is my canvas. Without fear, there is no courage. And without courage, there is no creativity. And without any of those, being on the mat just doesn’t work."
5. Athletes are not Invincible
"See, this story isn’t about me. It’s is about expectations. It’s about assumptions. It’s about being human. I think asking us athletes to progress in our chosen sport and live a life devoid of fear is just a smidge too much responsibility to impose on one fragile human psyche, don’t you think?"
6. Athletics are Definitive
"My journey brought me to a definitive realization: We live in an illusion that champions are fearless, and that any admission to the contrary is defined as weakness. While we need to believe that the extraordinary can happen and glimpses of God exist in our heroes — and believe me, we do — my fear … my deepest fear … is when another seven-year-old girl steps off the mat because feeling afraid isn’t welcomed."
7. The Close
"There’s a stigma that only tough girls wrestle. There’s a stigma that only fearless people win. Yet here I stand in front of you. In front of our country. In front of the world − distinguished by my gold − and by the overwhelming feeling that all of my fears and all of my anxieties in that moment rolled down my body with every tiny bead of sweat, one by one.
But just for now, let that be our little secret."
I could have copy and pasted the whole article here. The entire spread is my favorite. Here is the article again. Click and read. Maybe you will join me in saying, "Me too."