This History-Making Olympic Wrestler’s Biggest Strength Is Giving Back

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Helen Maroulis is using her spotlight to make a difference in the lives of refugees. 

Helen Maroulis is the first U.S. women’s wrestler to take home two Olympic medals. But her path to making history wasn’t easy. 

After winning the gold medal in women’s wrestling in Rio in 2016, Maroulis was diagnosed with multiple concussions and PTSD. “I was broken down,” she says. “I thought I was never going to be healthy or wrestle again.” 

But Maroulis spent the next five years recovering and gaining the strength to compete again — which led to her bringing home the bronze medal in Tokyo this year. “In the past, I would’ve thought bronze was a failure — not as good as gold,” she explains. “But everything that I’ve been through, that we’ve been through as a global community, put things into perspective.” 

Her medal isn’t the only prize she’s bringing home: “I remember thinking, This might be the last time I compete and I want to go out there and compete with joy.” she says. “Today is the gift; the medal is not the gift. That was my motto.” 

Now she’s paying her good fortune forward. Maroulis teamed up with P&G’s Athletes for Good Fund, which partners with athletes to raise money for causes that matter to them. Together, they’ve donated $10,000 to Maroulis’ charity of choice, When We Band Together, which helps provide relief, shelter, and opportunities to refugees in Lesvos, Greece. 

Maroulis found out about the refugee crisis there while on a vacation to Kalamos, the island her Greek-American father is from. Some Greek friends from the wrestling community happened to be visiting the country as well, and told her they were busily working with refugees in Lesvos. She immediately volunteered to come help, and the experience drastically changed her perspective.  

“It was so eye-opening,” she says. “These kids have been through so much, and their parents are super stressed trying to figure out their lives while raising children in horrible conditions. That broke my heart.”

“I thought about children being raised in a refugee camp,” says Maroulis, “and wondered how we could help them prepare for the world when they leave: How can we give them the skills they need to be successful?” So with her grant from P&G, Maroulis helped When We Band Together finish building a new sports, arts, and wellness center, and provide music, English, guitar, and self-defense classes. 

“Helen’s bravery, strength, and perseverance gives us hope and reminds us all that we’re strong enough to push through life’s challenges,” says Zoë Schultz, founder and executive director of When We Band Together. “Our wellness center is life changing for our members. Our daily classes serve as tools to empower these refugees, migrant women, and young girls, and to remind them that no dream — like becoming an Olympic champion — is too big.” 

For Maroulis, giving back and shining a spotlight on causes that matter is urgently necessary. “It’s important for athletes to use our platforms for good, because we’ve been given so much,” she says. “P&G helped me with this grant, then I help the refugees, and then the refugees can help each other. I think that’s how you lead with love. Love is the strongest force there is.”

Learn more about P&G’s Athletes for Good Fund here and help support When We Band Together and the refugees in Lesvos, Greece here