The 2020 Tokyo Olympic games looked a little different this year. After being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the games took place in the summer of 2021 — but they catered to a bit of a unique audience this time.
USA Women's Rugby player Ilona Maher, found her TikTok account take off after she shared a funny video showcasing the Olympic Village's infamous cardboard beds. Since the games, her profile has grown to more than 800,000 followers. Ilona spoke exclusively to Distractify about how she plans to use her platform now that the games are over and what's in store for her future.
Ilona has been using her platform to do more than just show the life of an Olympic athlete.
Her TikTok took off during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for her funny teammate videos and making fun of the cardboard beds (which, she says, were some of her favorite memories from the games). Since then, she's been using her platform to do so much more than just present herself as an athlete.
"My motto is beast, beauty, brains. And for me, it's showing people that rugby players, including myself, we're strong, aggressive, we go out onto the pitch and we're badasses," Ilona says. "But then also, we are feminine in our own ways. We're beautiful."
"I feel beautiful and feminine when I wear lipstick put on heels and a dress," she continues. "And then brains part is that I got my nursing degree. I'm smart. I like to learn things. Sometimes they put athletes in that one pool — like all athletes are athletic, but no, we're so much more than that."
She says that as her profile has continued to grow, she's found it easier to be more authentic in the content she posts, and not be too critical of it.
"I feel like I almost got more negative comments as a smaller creator," she says. "but it doesn't phase me as much anymore, just because I know that I have so many people backing me and supporting me."
Ilona hopes her platform can continue to help the next generation of women feel confident in themselves.
With so much of social media being structured and filtered, users have begun craving authenticity. Ilona says she's been trying to give that to her followers through her content and hopes to inspire the young women who follow her to find whatever it is that makes them feel beautiful and confident.
"I'm hopefully just giving people the opportunity to be themselves and show that you can succeed by being yourself — that there's really no path to it," she says. "I try to connect with as many people as I can and and many young girls because this is a weird time to grow up in, but [it's about] just staying true to your authentic self and like doing what makes you feel good."
For Ilona, that's rugby — and she's hoping to continue being part of the national team in 2024.
"I'm not finished with rugby. I'm not finished with the USA Rugby team," she says.
Follow Ilona on TikTok @ilonamaher to see more of her content.