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|Pursuit of perfection: Patricia Miranda hoping to add Yale Law degree, World gold medal to resume|
By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
When Patricia Miranda's hand was raised and she walked off the mat after winning her final match of the 2004 Athens Olympics, she fully intended to leave women's freestyle wrestling behind.
She had won her third World-level medal, including one in a historic Olympic Games when women's freestyle wrestling made a smashing debut.
Miranda was ready to plunge into Law School full-time at Yale University. She had just been married and she wanted to have kids at some point. She was ready to retire from competitive athletics and get on with the rest of her life.
But after a handful of months in Law School something changed for Miranda. The medal Miranda won in Athens was not the right color. It was bronze, not the gold medal she had dreamed about, worked so hard to achieve and envisioned winning.
Miranda returned to competition last year and despite juggling the demands of being a Yale Law student and a World class athlete, she still managed to win a bronze medal at the 2006 World Championships in Guangzhou, China. She was competing up a weight class at 51 kg/112.25 lbs. after wrestling at 48 kg/105.5 lbs. in the Olympics.
Miranda was a World silver medalist in 2000 and 2003, in addition to the bronze medals she won at the 2004 Olympics and 2006 World meet.
"Patricia is a perfectionist," said Terry Steiner, USA Wrestling National Women's Freestyle Coach. "She is not doing this to finish second or third. She has enough medals. She's there for one reason - to win. She hasn't won a World title yet. We've had some chances that we let slip away. She's not still doing what she's doing to let it slip away again."
Miranda's focus will shift back to wrestling full-time when she graduates near the top of her class from Yale Law School on May 28. Less than two weeks later, she will try to make her sixth World Team.
Miranda, by virtue of winning April's U.S. Nationals, will be the top seed for the U.S. World Team Trials on June 9-10 in Las Vegas. The champion in each weight class at the Trials advances to the World Championships on Sept. 17-23 in Baku, Azerbaijan.
That drive, determination and focus that Miranda had entering the 2004 Olympics is back again.
"Emotionally and mentally, I really thought I was done after the Olympics," Miranda said. "I didn't really think about wrestling for five or six months after the Olympics. But I had some unresolved issues after Athens. I wasn't where I thought I could be. I had expectations that I thought I should've won the gold medal. I know I can get better. It's very motivating to think that I have room to learn more skills on the mat and develop my mental skills. I am taking steps to reach the level where I want to be."
Even with the grueling, demanding schedule that Law School presents, Miranda still has found time to keep up her training. Her husband, Levi Weikel-Magden, also is her coach and they have tried to find workout partners in the area to train with.
A number of the top Senior-level women also have flown out to Connecticut to train with Miranda. U.S. Nationals runner-up Randi Miller flew out to train with Miranda last week and past U.S. Nationals champion Sharon Jacobson also was scheduled to travel out East to work with Miranda.
Miranda met her husband, Levi, 10 years ago when they both wrestled together at Stanford. He has put his own career on hold to help his wife pursue some of her goals. He has worked part-time for Yale University while his wife finishes Law School.
"Levi has just been amazing," said Miranda, who will turn 28 the day after the World Team Trials. "It's really hard to verbalize what he has meant to me. He plans and manages my schedule, and flies in training partners for me. He watches over me when I practice and he's so committed to me, which makes the entire endeavor that much more meaningful to me.
"He's already graduated from Law School and passed the Bar. He could be doing some other things and that's why I'm so grateful for the sacrifices he's made for me."
Earning a trip to Beijing, China for the 2008 Olympic Games will not be easy for Miranda. With just four Olympic weight classes offered for women's freestyle competitors, Miranda will have to cut back down to 48 kg/105.5 lbs. since her current weight class of 51 kg/112.25 lbs. is not an Olympic weight class.
Once she drops down to 105.5, Miranda will have to battle a handful of top competitors for the spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. That list likely will include past World medalists Stephanie Murata and Jenny Wong along with past World Team members Mary Kelly and Clarissa Chun.
"We have some pretty tough girls there," Steiner said. "Those other girls aren't going to concede anything to Patricia at 48, and I think she understands that."
Long-time foes Miranda and Wong are expected to battle it out for the spot on the 2007 U.S. World Team. Miranda came back to beat Wong 1-2, 1-0, 1-0 in April's U.S. Nationals finals. Miranda has clinched a spot in the best-of-3 finals for the U.S. World Team Trials by virtue of winning the U.S. Nationals. The winner of the Challenge Tournament at 51 kg will meet Miranda that evening in a best-of-3 series in the finals.
Immediately after her finals win at U.S. Nationals, Miranda was talking with her husband and coach to gain feedback on her performance.
Balancing wrestling and Law School, as you can imagine, was not easy.
"Last fall, I had to miss the first month of Law School to train and compete at the World Championships in China," she said. "I had to make up a lot of work. I was able to catch up, but it was a lot of work. I didn't catch up until the end of the semester. Ninety percent of the professors I approached about making up the work were very accommodating."
Miranda is gearing up for another tough challenge on the mat. She is focused on earning another shot at World champion Hitomi Sakamoto of Japan. Sakamoto swept Miranda 3-0, 2-0 in the 2006 World meet. She also beat Miranda in the finals of the 2000 World Championships.
Sakamoto, a four-time World champion, won the most recent meeting with Miranda at the New York AC Holiday International Open in November. Sakamoto won 2-1, 4-0.
"I'm so excited about another showdown with her," Miranda said. "It would be a perfect punctuation to my career to beat her. Hitomi is pretty straightforward with her style. She wrestles in good position, she is technically proficient and she doesn't make mistakes. I have until September to catch her."
Miranda, who wrestles for the Sunkist Kids, is still contemplating what exactly she plans to do with her life after the 2008 Olympics.
"We are definitely thinking about having children at some point," she said. "If you know Levi, he's meant to be a father."
While most of her Yale classmates know what their next step is going to be after Law School, Miranda's career plans will stay on hold as she keeps competing.
"I want my work to be integrated with my life and I want my work time to be secondary to my life instead of the other way around," she said. "I would maybe start my own firm in a small town and go into arbitration and help people compromise."
The intelligent, well-spoken Miranda, who lists one of her hobbies as conflict mediation, definitely has plenty to offer to a potential employer.
"How could a firm not want someone like Patricia on their staff?" Steiner said. "Not many people could balance everything like she does and handle everything so well."
No matter what path Miranda chooses to follow with her career Steiner is confident she will excel.
"I think Patricia will eventually be involved in Law somewhere," Steiner said. "She has so much to give and so much to offer. Whatever she does, she will be doing it to change the world. She will try to make this a better place. She's such a great person."
Miranda definitely has made a difference in helping the sport of women's wrestling gain recognition. She was profiled frequently by national media prior to the Olympics, appearing in publications like USA Today and People Magazine.
"I got called a pioneer for the sport because I was able to introduce our sport to the world in the Olympics," she said. "But there were people long before us fighting just to get our sport into the World Championships. I ended up being the one out there wrestling in the Olympics, but there were so many others who made it happen. I am very grateful to the women who wrestled before me. They made all this possible."
Steiner said Miranda has been a joy to coach.
"She's the consummate athlete," Steiner said. "She's always working, always learning, always doing what you ask. It's hard for people like that not to be successful. It reminds me of the relationship I had with (two-time NCAA champion and World bronze medalist) Donny Pritzlaff at Wisconsin. I learned as much from him as he probably did from me. Athletes like that make you a better coach because they expect a lot from a coach and ask you questions that really make you think about things. They're constantly looking for feedback and are always looking to get better."
Miranda said she's looking forward to training full-time again at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. And actually having a little time to rest and relax between workouts.
But Miranda is not one to sit still for very long.
"I know Patricia has said she would rather fall into bed exhausted every night than waiting to fall asleep - I'm pretty sure that's how she ends every day," Steiner said. "She gets the most out of every day. She lives her life to excellence and gives everything she has to get it. That's the definition of success."