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Olympic champion wrestler Helen Maroulis inspires girls at Baltimore clinic

The greatest women’s wrestler in the world — winner of 2015 and 2017 world titles, sandwiched around an Olympic gold medal in 2016 — had committed to doing a clinic in Baltimore only days ago and she had quickly drawn a packed room, including about two dozen female wrestlers.
The greatest women’s wrestler in the world — winner of 2015 and 2017 world titles, sandwiched around an Olympic gold medal in 2016 — had committed to doing a clinic in Baltimore only days ago and she had quickly drawn a packed room, including about two dozen female wrestlers. (Luke Broadwater / Baltimore Sun)

Helen Maroulis looked around the room Saturday at Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School in Southwest Baltimore and marveled.

The greatest women’s wrestler in the world — winner of 2015 and 2017 world titles, sandwiched around an Olympic gold medal in 2016 — had committed to doing a clinic in Baltimore only days ago and she had quickly drawn a packed room, including about two dozen female wrestlers, some whom had driven hours to see her.

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Helen Maroulis won five straight matches by technical falls and did not allow a point in outscoring her opponents 53-0 en route to the 58 kg title at the World Championships in Paris. 

“I’ve never seen so many girl wrestlers in one room,” one observer said. Some girls asked Maroulis for autographs; other young wrestlers carried her poster.

This was a far cry from Maroulis’ childhood in Rockville, where she had to search hard for female training partners and coaching in a male-dominated sport. She took note of how skilled the young wrestlers were.

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“These girls are good,” Maroulis said. “It’s crazy, because I remember what it was like when I was 7 and it was hard to find a coach. It’s just crazy that there are this many girls who have gotten to this level.”

Maroulis, 26, was in Baltimore at the invitation of Lydell Henry, director of youth wrestling program Beat the Streets-Baltimore. She was the second Olympic champion — the first was five-time world and Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs — to come to the city at the invitation of the program, which seeks to provide a “positive environment that nurtures physical and mental development through wrestling, mentoring and tutoring programs.”

Kyle Snyder made history at the Rio Olympics by becoming the youngest American wrestler to win a gold medal.

Henry said he was hoping his young wrestlers — both boys and girls — would learn Maroulis’ techniques, but also get inspired to stick with a sport he says instills positive life lessons.

“She’s a role model,” Henry said. “They get to see someone of high caliber who is an icon in the sport. Hopefully it will encourage them to continue with the sport. Some kids fall off, drop off in high school when kids have a lot of other things to be involved in.”

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Logan Simpson, coach of the North Carolina team OBX Elite Wrestling, drove two girls up to the clinic — including his 8-year-old daughter Skyla, who is already a young champion.

“For my daughter, this was a dream come true,” he said. “When I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, her answer is, ‘Helen Maroulis.’ She came to me and said, ‘Dad, can you take me?’ A 6.5 hour drive, what is that to make your daughter happy? I said, ‘Absolutely, we’ll be there.’”

Less than a month ago, Helen Maroulis, a 24-year old native of Rockville, was winning an Olympic Gold Medal in the sport of women's wrestling in Rio.

Morrell Park student Arianna Kittelson, 13, who has been wrestling for four years, called it “amazing” that Maroulis had come to her school.

“I figured she wouldn’t come here,” she said.

Maroulis said she’s doing more work with Beat the Streets programs in other cities as a way to give back to the sport, which Henry stresses teaches life skills like discipline and perseverance.

“Wrestling has changed my life,” she said. “It’s really cool to see what it teaches these kids and what it helps them with. This is a life-changing sport.”

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