NewsWrestlingHelen Maroulis

Helen | Believes — Yes She Does!

by Peggy Shinn

Helen Maroulis celebrates winning bronze in the women's freestyle 57kg division during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 5, 2021 in Chiba, Japan. (Photo by Getty Images)

At the end of the documentary Helen|Believe, two-time Olympic medalist Helen Maroulis acknowledges that her wrestling career is not going to last forever. There will be a time when, “I don’t get to do wrestling anymore,” she narrates.

Maroulis turns 32 on the day of her first match at the 2023 World Wrestling Championships in September. So, retirement is somewhere on the horizon.

But it’s not anytime soon. She concludes Helen|Believe — a film that documents the two Olympic medal wins that have bookended her battle with self-doubt and PTSD after suffering concussions — by saying, “I feel like I’m just getting started.”

It’s a statement that bodes well for her performance at the 2023 world championships, where she hopes to win her seventh world championship medal (and fourth gold). And it bodes well for 2024 when she hopes to qualify for her third U.S. Olympic Team.


For American wrestling fans, Maroulis seemed invincible in 2016 after she became the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling. That day in Rio, in the 53-kilogram event, she defeated Saori Yoshida, a 13-time world and three-time Olympic champion. It was like David defeating Goliath.

Helen|Believe was originally intended to showcase Maroulis’s journey to that gold medal — from age 7, when she jumped in with her older brother’s team because they needed another wrestler to that day in Rio when she climbed onto the Olympic podium’s highest step.

Filming began in 2018, and Maroulis’s manager at the time suggested to film director Dylan Mulick to also focus on Maroulis’s current struggles. In a tournament earlier that year, she had suffered such a bad concussion that she was sensitive to light and sound, had vertigo, and did not recognize herself in the mirror. She then developed post-traumatic stress disorder, became suicidal, and was institutionalized for a brief time in 2019. She thought she had to retire from wrestling.

The film documents how Maroulis’s life unraveled, then how she found help and recovered. In the film’s penultimate scene, Maroulis wins a bronze medal in the 57-kilogram class at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. Then two months after the Games, she won her third world championship title.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed [wrestling when I couldn’t do it], and Tokyo helped me to figure that out,” she narrates in the film’s final scene. “Winning bronze was such a blessing because I learned who I am, and I can trust myself completely.

“When the tournament was over, I knew I wasn’t going to retire. I don’t feel like I’ve reached my peak. I’m in love with wrestling more than ever before.”

(l-r) Helen Maroulis competes against Alexandra Hedrick in the women’s freestyle 57kg match during the 12th Annual Beat the Streets Wrestling Benefit on June 08, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Getty Images)

When she embarked on filming Helen|Believe, Maroulis did not think much about how the film might impact the sport of wrestling.

“I was still going through my healing journey,” she said by phone from a pre-worlds training camp in Colorado Springs. “My focus was to be healthy and get back to wrestling.”

But she did realize that it was important to share her story and show her vulnerability, to let others who have had concussions and PTSD know that they are not alone.

“It’s something that I wish that I had when I was going through my stuff,” Maroulis said. “It would have been nice to talk to someone or be mentored by someone who had gone through it.

“It would have helped me to feel like, okay, I’m normal, or okay, they got through it.”

She also wants young athletes to know that elite athletes “are not as put together as they appear. We go through just as much stuff [as they do], and it’s okay to struggle with things.”

The film premiered in February 2023, and feedback has been positive. Maroulis has especially liked hearing from veterans and non-athletes who have suffered concussions or mental health journeys. She did not expect Helen|Believe to resonate with such a wide variety of people.

While Helen|Believe primarily illustrates the obstacles that Maroulis overcame, it also touches on how she has inspired her teammates. At the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis was the only American woman to win a medal. Five years later in Tokyo, four American women won medals, including Maroulis (bronze) and Tamyra Mensah-Stock, who claimed gold in the 68 kg event. Two months later, at the 2021 world championships, six Team USA women won medals, including golds for Maroulis and Adeline Gray. The U.S. women also won six medals at the 2022 world championships.

But Maroulis takes no credit for igniting this success. Each of her teammates has had their own journey, and in her mind, they are collectively responsible for the team’s success.

“I saw my teammates transform their lives, I saw them go through their own injuries, surgeries, setbacks, losses, and then they basically reinvented themselves,” she said with innate humility. “They found that within themselves. If there’s any part of my story or my experience that was somewhat inspiring, then that’s really cool. But I don’t know the extent of it.”

Looking ahead, Dylan Mulick might have to direct a sequel soon. Maroulis is aiming to win her fourth world championship title in Belgrade this month.

She has had “some bumps in the road” this past year but is “super dialed in right now.” Her first match in Belgrade is September 19 — her 32nd birthday.

Should she qualify for the Paris Olympic Games, Maroulis will be a year younger than her gold-medal-match opponent Yoshida was in 2016, a fact of which Maroulis was not aware (Yoshida was 33 years old in 2016). It would add more symmetry to Maroulis’s career — as would winning another Olympic gold medal in Paris.

“That’s my goal,” she said. “I would love to get that second gold medal.”

But after all that Maroulis has been through in the past five years, she is realistic.

“Honestly,” she added, “just to make the team and get to go [to Paris] and do my best, that would be incredible.”