Helen Maroulis was informed that she was about to be admitted to a psychiatric ward due to suicidal thoughts three years after becoming the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling.
“I simply recall nothing after that,” Maroulis enlightens CNN Game concerning her confirmation, adding that she was delivered a couple of days after the fact.
“They put me in this psych ward all of a sudden, and I was completely normal,”
Maroulis’s journey on and off the mat, as well as her struggle to return to her beloved sport after overcoming debilitating concussions, has inspired a lot of people, including Hollywood star Chris Pratt, who recently made a feature film about the highs and lows of Maroulis’s distinguished career.
When she was seven years old, she almost got into the sport by accident. She played partner for her younger brother because there weren’t enough kids on his team.
“She just told me to take off my shoes and jump in there because she didn’t want to force him to quit for that season. Maroulis says, “Be a dummy.” After wrestling with the boys for two weeks, she knew she wanted to compete, and not just as a “dummy.” As a result, her father bet: She could continue the sport if she wrestled and won one match.
“It was the only match all year that I won; I call it destiny,” Maroulis recalls.
The Maryland native won age-group and senior world medals for Team USA and was a four-time WCWA (World Class Wrestling Association) national champion by college. She defeated Japan’s Saori Yoshida, a 13-time world champion and formidable opponent, to become the first American woman to win gold in wrestling at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Maroulis describes the moment as “surreal.”
It was such a fulfillment of a dream. It was a unique opportunity to perform your passion in front of thousands of people. She says, “You represent your country, and you lay your heart on the mat.”
Be that as it may, while preparing for the Tokyo Olympics in 2019, Maroulis’ fantasies were wrecked.
‘An invisible injury’
Maroulis suffered three concussions over the course of two years, in 2018 and 2019, which eventually knocked her off her game and sent her spiraling downward.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a concussion is a brain injury caused by a hit to the head or body that causes the brain to move back and forth inside the skull.
Regular side effects can incorporate inclination unsteady or lethargic, having a migraine, feeling sickened or spewing, being irritated by light or commotion, and encountering fixation or memory issues.
According to a review of 25 studies of sport-related concussion published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, “biomechanical differences and hormonal differences” are listed as possible factors. Females may be more susceptible to concussion and have worse and longer-lasting symptoms after injury than men.
Maroulis asserts, “I would literally have these personality changes, or these dizzy bouts or vertigo.” Navigating all of that was just extremely difficult.
She claims that people would ask: Have you been eliminated? Did you faint? Did you vomit?’ Instead, she referred to a concussion as an “invisible injury,” saying, “No, none of those things.”
According to Maroulis, “It felt like there was a period of time when I just wasn’t really identified with anything, like I didn’t know who I was.” I just had such a battle [with] being ordinary. It was much larger than just sports. It was like this: Oh my goodness, all I want to do is return to normal.
Although a doctor was able to diagnose each of her three concussions, it was more difficult to treat the symptoms.
Maroulis claims that prior to the concussions, she had begun to manage her anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
“I did a lot of work on myself between 2012 and 2016 to overcome that. And I was so proud of that because I really felt like, “Oh, I don’t think I struggle with this anymore.” She adds, “And then it felt like a lot of that flooded back when I got the concussions.”
“I remember feeling like I was going crazy, like I was right at the edge of being insane,” she said.
Maroulis ended up in that psychiatric ward in 2019 following a “freak accident” during a match in which she was slapped in the ear at practice.
She claims that in the two years that followed, she attempted to conceal how the head injuries had affected her.
Maroulis asserts, “As an athlete, you don’t want to show any weakness.”
“At this point in my career, I knew that there was a lot of expectation placed on me. So I just felt like I generally needed to simply satisfy the hope more from chasing after a norm of greatness, yet perhaps additionally from my entire life being a young lady in the game.”
However, she stated that she was unable to even enter the wrestling room without experiencing panic attacks, and that her struggles with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder were affecting every aspect of her life.
She continues, “My relationship with wrestling felt so damaged and broken.”
A long recovery
Maroulis came to the conclusion that she was putting her own health at risk by pushing herself to achieve.
I realize that you can be replaced by anyone but yourself. And I think, I can no longer do this to myself. She asserts, “I can’t ask my body to go wrestle just to make these people happy.”
She took a break for half a year to recover, but she came back in early February 2020 to wrestle in the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier tournament. During that time, she also went through several treatments.
Other than an underlying SCAT test and side effect checking, Maroulis went through visual and vestibular preparation and biofeedback treatment. She also went through neuropsychology and counseling, used prism glasses for eye correction, and used a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.
A delicate tissue control known as Fascial Counterstrain (FCS) likewise ended up being exceptionally useful, she says.
According to Maroulis, “I wanted to come back because I love [the sport], I want to ask the most of myself, I want to heal my relationship with wrestling, and I want to enjoy this again like I did when I was a little kid.”
She consulted medical professionals throughout her consideration of a comeback to inquire about her concussion risk.
She wasn’t, according to the doctors, and the second concussion she had was unusual and not related to a wrestling match.
She was monitored throughout her comeback, but she eventually received permission to wrestle again from the sports medical staff at the Olympic Training Center, her neuropsychologist, and her coaches.
Maroulis declares, “I’m one of the very lucky and blessed cases.” There are so many instances in which I am in the right place at the right time, or I meet someone who works on concussions outside of their network of help, and that person was able to greatly assist me.
Maroulis thinks that young athletes who are dealing with a concussion need more help, especially since some may delay seeking it out for fear of appearing weak.
I’ve had to talk to young athletes about this. You don’t have anything to show. Never lie about your symptoms and tell them how you really feel. Pushing through on the grounds that you don’t believe they should believe you’re feeble is the most exceedingly terrible thing you can do,” Maroulis says.
“I struggle with the fact that I have won a gold medal. As a result, I can’t imagine a high school student pursuing their dream at this point in time. Additionally, they do not want their parents, teammates, or coach to perceive them as weak.
Maroulis is currently working out for the World Wrestling Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, and the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Pratt, a wrestling fan for all of his life, was intrigued by her story because he believes that Maroulis is “the very best in the world at what she does” because of her resilience.
Pratt tells CNN Sport, “She is a true pioneer and the personification of combat toughness.” She is an excellent role model due to her unwavering determination and open faith.
Religion of Sports, a company founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan, and Tom Brady, produced “Helen | Believe.”