Six years ago, as a junior at Saratoga High School in California, Patricia Miranda LAW ’08, began accompanying Stanford wrestling head coach Steve Buddy and his team during their summer training sessions.
Two years later Miranda was the only female wrestler on his Division-I squad.
“I honestly thought I knew what it meant to be ‘tough,'” Buddy said. “I grew up in a house with three argumentative boys, competed as a wrestler for over 20 years, and had been touched by 30 years of inspirational athletic moments. I thought I had seen it all, until I met Patricia Miranda.”
A year with no regrets
Between college and graduate school, many students take a year or two off to pursue other interests — academic and otherwise. Miranda is deferring enrollment to the Yale Law School until the fall of 2004 to pursue a dream that falls into the “other” category.
Miranda, 22, will not be spending her year getting work experience with a company. She will not be spending it with her father at home, plotting out her next move. Miranda has all of her moves figured out, and if she executes them properly, they will land her on the wrestling mat at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games.
“I want to see how good I can get and have no regrets,” Miranda said about her decision to spend the year preparing at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Women’s wrestling will debut as an Olympic event in the 2004 Summer Games.
“I don’t train like that’s my goal every day, I find smaller goals,” Miranda said. “But every now and then I pick my head up and look at that goal.”
Setting small goals while aspiring to great feats has been a necessity for Miranda in a male dominated sport where very few all-female competitions existed for her to compete in while at Stanford, and absolutely none existed while she wrestled in high school.
But Miranda thrives on adversity.
Getting her “fight” down
A natural soccer and basketball player, Miranda grew bored of her easy success in these sports and yearned for a real challenge. In eighth grade she found that challenge on the wrestling squad.
“I was a really curious kid who got sort of bored with things I did well,” Miranda said. “I was bad at [wrestling] at first — especially the fight part.”
Miranda, who is of Brazilian and Japanese heritage, was strongly encouraged by her parents to forgo athletic pursuits in favor of academic ones. When she decided to take up wrestling seriously, her father was less than pleased.
“It wasn’t at all the gender issue that concerned my dad, but rather that it would interfere with my education,” Patricia Miranda said.
When Miranda was accepted to Stanford, a long-time private dream of her mother’s was realized, and her father subsequently dropped some of his reservations about wrestling. Unable to understand the origins of his daughter’s athletic ability — he and his wife had not set a strong example of athleticism in the family — Jose Miranda often joked about that his own athletic prowess only extended to playing marbles.
While her athleticism might not have been hereditary, the toughness that Miranda is recognized for on the mat certainly is. Miranda’s parents were student leaders during the revolt against the Brazilian government during the 70s. Once their comrades in the revolt began “to disappear,” Miranda’s parents sought refuge in Canada before settling in Saratoga, Calif. Knowing the challenges her parents overcame early in their lives, Miranda was able to get past the “fight part” of the match that she initially struggled with. Soon Miranda was able to use the “fight” aspect of her bouts to defeat many of the boys she faced in high school. In her senior year alone, Miranda won over half her matches.
Go west, young lady, go west
Wrestling at Stanford came with its own set of trials for Miranda, as the Cardinal men’s squad was not only extremely talented at the technical aspects of the sport, but considerably larger than many of the male competitors Miranda faced in high school. There were also the ever-present issues of practicing with a Division-I varsity team for a sport that offered an extremely limited number of female contests.
“I didn’t see any way to break into the guys’ team other than putting my head down and outworking them,” Miranda said.
After watching 105-pound Miranda outworking them for two years, the Cardinal men began to accept her as a serious competitor. While Buddy welcomed the idea of Miranda wrestling with his team, he had his concerns.
“There have been times when I have been nervous about her health because of the size and strength discrepancy,” Buddy said. “She has always quelled those fears, however, by simply getting better, stronger and tougher.”
On Aug. 5, Miranda became the first female wrestler to win the gold at the Pan-American Games in the Dominican Republic.
Miranda’s quiet toughness seems to be the first trait many notice about her. After placing second in the Women’s World Wrestling Championships this fall, it was crucial that Miranda assess herself as a wrestler and work her way through the devastating loss. The match was one, that in her own words, was “definitely winnable.” The “un-veteran” mistakes Miranda made on the mat cost her the bout and served as the most crushing defeat of her career.
“With the men, many people assume you’re going to lose — it’s as though you’re supposed to,” Miranda said. “But with wrestling against women, it’s a whole new type of pressure.”
After that loss, Miranda realized the importance of getting back into competition, toughening up and moving past the pain it had caused her.
“I have this problem where I overdo my losses and under-do my wins,” Miranda said.
One recent triumph that Miranda should credit herself with was her performance in Japan last weekend at the Women’s World Cup of Wrestling. Miranda won all six of her bouts, earning an individual gold medal at the elite event, as well as aiding her U.S. Wrestling Team in its defeat of the Japanese national team. The American team’s win was a significant breakthrough in the history of women’s wrestling, since the Japanese have long dominated the sport. According to Miranda, U.S. National Women’s Wrestling Team coach Terry Steiner was a pivotal figure in the victory.
“[Steiner's] done so much for women’s wrestling,” Miranda said. “He takes pride in what he’s doing instead of using his work with [women's wrestlers] as a stepping stone to work with the elite male wrestlers.”
Miranda’s story has caught the attention of the sports world. She has been profiled by Sports Illustrated and will be the only athlete, professional or amateur, featured in Newsweek’s 2003 Year in Review issue.
Even with her sport gaining momentum and better recognition, the luxuries that many professional athletes enjoy are still absent for Miranda and her female teammates. One of Miranda’s most eye-opening experiences occurred during her first winter tour in Kiev.
“Everything that could have gone wrong did,” Miranda said. “I remember going through my luggage and realizing there was nothing I wouldn’t trade for a roll of toilet paper.”
The challenges, as usual, did not daunt Miranda in competing hard and accomplishing her goals. Now, Miranda does not only expect the challenges that she has faced in her wrestling career, but she welcomes them.
“If the challenges weren’t there, I couldn’t rise up to meet them,” Miranda said.
Buddy notes that Miranda’s ability to tackle adversity has made her a crucial member of the Stanford wrestling team.
“The toughness that I speak of when describing Patricia is not something she wears,” Buddy said. “She is not a thick-skinned militant type who puts her head down and ‘takes care of business’ in her world among men in the wrestling room. She is a multi-dimensional woman who has a sensitive side to her, and has in turn, taught our team much about women, respect, and dignity.”