Olympics: Wrestler Helen Maroulis content with God's plan

RIO DE JANEIRO (BP) -- Helen Maroulis had lots of grandiose plans for 2012 about how the Lord could use her as an Olympic wrestler. She figured she'd have a tremendous platform to share about her faith in Christ and talk about all the Lord had done in her life.

Helen Maroulis
Photo courtesy of USA Wrestling
Then she failed to make the team. So much for her plans.

"I just remember bawling my eyes out, and I was angry," she said after losing in the trials that year.

With her dreams shattered, Maroulis spent some time reading the Bible. She began to ask herself some questions. What if she were not Elijah? What if she were not David? Rather than being a prominent figure, what if instead she were just one of the 5,000 being fed by Jesus?

"Is that enough for me?" she asked. She reached a definite conclusion.

"Yeah, because that's a miracle," she said. "If I need to be the main character, then I think that's more on my ego than on Christ."

Though Maroulis had become a Christian a couple of years earlier, that time of struggle proved to be a key turning point in her relationship with Christ, she said. Up until then, wrestling had been her highest priority -- even her religion. It proved to be an unfulfilling and unsatisfying god.

"I think I used God as a good luck charm or a rabbit's foot," she said. "It was like I couldn't let go of my grasp on wrestling. Yeah God, I know you love me, but wrestling is the only thing that's making me feel worthy right now."

Maroulis, originally from Maryland, attended Missouri Baptist University and wrestled there before transferring to Simon Fraser University. She was not a Christian while a student at MBU but said that her time there played a factor in her later conversion. She encountered many people at MBU who were joyful whether things were going well or not, and that joy was absent in Maroulis' life.

She eventually became a Christian, and she said her faith has grown considerably since 2012.

"I think God taught me that wrestling is a tool that He's using to shape my character. It's not something that I need," she said. "I love what I do, but with every little step of the way, God's showing me something, teaching me, challenging me in some way."

When she wrestles in Rio Thursday in the women's 53-kilogram freestyle event, Maroulis will do so with a radically transformed outlook from the one she had four years ago and missed out on the Olympics entirely. Rather than putting her identity in her wrestling, she now knows that her relationship with God is the most fulfilling thing in her life, regardless of what happens on the mat.

"God doesn't need me for wrestling and I don't need wrestling for this platform," she said. "If I want to be a good teammate or if I want to live through faith for example, I don't need a gold medal to do that."

Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
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