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Olympian Ilona Maher Dishes on "Absolutely Amazing" Jennifer Lopez After TikTok Interaction

Olympic rugby player Ilona Maher reflected on the highs and lows of her time on the world stage, speculating that even stars like Jennifer Lopez go through "hard times of self-doubt."

By Lindsay Weinberg, Hillary Bautch Aug 10, 2021 12:28 AMTags

One of the small perks of being an Olympic athlete—besides the thousands of inevitable TikTok followers—is rubbing shoulders with celebrities you've always admired. 

That seems to have been the case for U.S. rugby player Ilona Maher. She has not only earned 800,000 TikTok fans that watched her compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but she also scored a coveted shoutout from none other than Jennifer Lopez.

"That was just cool," Ilona, 24, tells E! News in an exclusive interview. "We were like, 'Maybe we should just make a fun video of her, but she'll probably never see it, but it will be just fun.' We made this video, and then I woke up seeing that she'd seen it."

What was her reaction to getting noticed by one half of Bennifer? "I was like, 'That's awesome, because anyone can use—probably even J.Lo goes through some hard times of self-doubt, so let me just show her I think she is absolutely amazing,'" Ilona gushes. "So, I am really happy that she saw that."

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2020 Tokyo Olympics Closing Ceremony

Proving that love don't cost a thing, Ilona first reached out to the superstar with a fangirling video

"Hey, J.Lo," she started, while waving a cutout picture of Jennifer's glammed-up face. "I just wanted to let you know that I love you so much. I think you're so multi-talented and you can do literally everything." 

Dan Mullan/Getty Images/Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Ilona added, "I wanna let you know also that I was given multiple cutouts of hot men, but I chose you because you're my number one. OK, bye." (Per People, the athlete has said J.Lo's movies are her favorite, including Maid in Manhattan and The Wedding Planner.)

On Aug. 1, J.Lo reposted the video on TikTok and wrote, "I choose you too @ilonamaher [heart] Go team USA." 

In addition to her TikTok meet cute with J.Lo, Ilona reveals another longtime idol she crossed paths with during the Olympics. "I can't say I fangirl too often," she explains, "but I did get a little excited when I saw [basketball player] Brittney Griner."

She notes, "I definitely wanted to take a picture with her, because I have read her book before... I think it's interesting to be in a village of athletes who, a lot of them, are pretty well known. So, it's like a lot of these exceptional people in one place, you'd be fangirling the whole time."

@jlo

I choose you too @ilonamaher ??Go team USA ???? @nbcolympics

? original sound - JLO

She says one of her favorite moments of the Summer Games was arriving at the Olympic Village and "the excitement that you feel of just getting there."

Ilona recalls, "You realize where you're at, and you get all this gear, and it's a fun try-on with everybody. It was like, 'Oh, look at this! Oh, look at that!' So, that was insanely fun. The food was great; there were so many different options, and Japan really knocked it out of the park."

But after competing at the prestigious Olympics and having all kinds of adventures abroad, Ilona explains that she is having a difficult time now that it's over.

"I am going through a pretty hard time right now," she shares. "It has been just hanging out with people I love and not being alone with my thoughts, I think that has been key."

She told E! News, "At least for me, I have been chatting with my family and doing things to take my mind off it... My mind is constantly worrying. I think it is also having someone to talk to, that might not be just your family, like a sports psych or even just a psychologist or therapist. A sounding board is just good, because [sometimes] you really do get trapped up there." 

Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

On top of her mental health wisdom, Ilona gave some advice to young fans at home that may want to be in her shoes one day.

"My advice to them, for even young girls—my dad and I talked about this—is to try out a lot of different sports," she offers. "There are a lot of great sports out there, and I think by just putting yourself in one sport so early could not be so good for your body and for your love of the sport."

The rugby sevens star suggests that kids, who may have watched her on their TV screens at home, should try to figure out "which sport you really vibe with, and then go all in."

"If the Olympics is something that you really want," she says, just remember that it is "not going to be the biggest thing in your life." As Ilona puts it, "It is going to be big, but there is so much more going on. Cherish even the littlest moments and littlest wins before and after the Olympics."

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