Girls tackle wrestling with gusto

Olympic wrestler Patricia Miranda was in the Eagle office during the Christmas holidays. Contributed photo

JOHN DAY - Losing a wrestling match is losing a wrestling match - even if it's to a girl.

"It wasn't a big deal," Grant Union High School wrestler Aaron Humbird said the other day before practice.

Last year, when he was a freshman, Humbird lost a 112-pound match to a girl at the LaPine Tournament.

"She beat me pretty good," Humbird said and shrugged his shoulders. He didn't know what grade she was in, but that wasn't important, anyway. He lost. It didn't matter who beat him.

When he walked off the mat after the match, he wasn't thinking about his opponent being a girl, he was thinking that she was a good wrestler.

"If they're good, they're good," Humbird said. "I got beat."

He didn't remember her name. Maybe we'll learn it later. Maybe she'll love wrestling so much that she'll stay with it through all the beatings - the stars were aligned against Humbird - wrestle on a men's team in college, and then go on to win a bronze medal wrestling against women at the Olympics.

Maybe she'll do what Patricia Miranda did.

Miranda was a member of the United States Olympic women's wrestling team that competed at the Olympics last year in Athens. It was the first time women's wrestling was an Olympic event.

Wrestling at 105 pounds, she was the top ranked American woman in her weight class and was a silver medalist at the 2003 world championships.

She was in town during the Christmas holidays, visiting her father-in-law, Hans Magden, a local veterinarian.

"I grew up in wall-to-wall concrete," Miranda said. "I like to see dirt."

She married Levi Weikel-Magden late last year. They met at Stanford, where both were on the wrestling team.

The daughter of a Brazilian doctor and a Japanese mother, Miranda was brought up in a home where the only responsibility she and her three siblings had was schoolwork. Academics ruled her life, and she was smart and it was easy.

When she was 10, Miranda's mom died at 40 of an aneurysm, and the smooth ride Miranda had been on lost its appeal.

She figured her life was one-quarter over, if she died at the same age as her mom, and she didn't want it to be easy anymore; she wanted something that challenged her.

Three years later she started classes at Saratoga High School, which is about 50 miles south of San Francisco near San Jose, and tried out for the wrestling team on a whim.

"It really scared me to wrestle," Miranda said. "I grew that day because I put myself on the line."

That she wasn't especially talented or athletic made her want to do it all the more.

Her father didn't like the idea, but as long she earned straight A's, he let her wrestle.

"Every kid needs something to help them develop, a challenge," Miranda said. "That's what wrestling was for me."

She rose to the challenge, raising her grades from C's and D's and becoming the team captain as a senior.

While she was accepted by other wrestlers, it was coaches and parents who continued to put up obstacles to her wrestling, she said.

She once had a long talk with the mother of a boy she had beaten.

"She was upset that I beat him, but I think she shouldn't teach her son to think it's bad to be beaten by a girl," Miranda said.

There weren't too many upset mothers during Miranda's college career. She didn't get into an official match until her fifth year, and then when she finally did beat a man, she felt so bad for him, she promised not to talk about specifics of the match.

There are about 5,000 girls wrestling in the United States, but there are few high school or college programs for them; so for the near future, girls who want to wrestle will have to hit the mat with boys.

There was a girl competing at the recent Grant Union Tournament.

Grant Union's Josh Arnall, one of the best 135-pound wrestlers in the state and champion of the local tournament, isn't likely to be beaten by a girl anytime soon, but he spoke respectfully about the times he has wrestled girls.

"It's no different than a guy," Arnall said. "They're just as aggressive, compete well and can't be overlooked. You have to beat them."

Miranda, now 25, with a bachelor's in economics and a master's in international policy and looking forward to finishing Yale Law School in 2007 - just before the world championships - wasn't sure she'd continue her wrestling career.

"I now have so much other stuff to do," she said. "If I really want to do it, maybe. I think Levi would be an excellent coach."

She looks back fondly at her time on the mat, confident that it was wrestling that helped her become a better person.

"Wrestling is a training ground for life," she said. "It's a humbling sport, because you always lose at some point."

Grant Union's Rustin McLeod heard a similar comment and nodded his head.

"After wrestling, everything else is a lot easier," McLeod said.

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