Alumna wrestled to confront her personal identity, eventually winning a medal at the Olympics

February 12, 2019 — by Allison Hartley and Shama Gupta

The announcer’s voice dipped lower, ending the list of names for 1997 alumna Patricia Adura Miranda’s  weight class. Anxious that she had made a mistake, Miranda hurried to the posting table to check her match schedule for the pre-season high school wrestling tournament in 1993.

“Someone scratched your name from the bracket,” the volunteer said. Frustrated, Miranda realized that her father had driven to the tournament to remove her from the bracket.

But this tournament wasn’t special — later, her father would scratch her name out time and time again and even threaten to sue the school to keep his daughter out of wrestling.

But Miranda, who was the only female wrestler at Saratoga High during her time here, went on to attend Stanford University and get bachelor's degree in Economics and a master’s in International Policy Studies and become the first American to win a medal in women's wrestling, earning the bronze medal in the 106-pound women’s weight class. Her pioneering journey was inevitably riddled with roadblocks, but English department teacher Cathy Head, who taught Miranda as a senior in AP Literature, said that Miranda was well equipped to break through.

“She was one of the bravest people I’ve ever met, especially when it comes to social concerns,” Head said. “She was an idealist who did what she believed in.”

Miranda’s strong values may have morphed from the principles she developed in middle school.

Miranda’s mother died of an aneurysm when she was young, setting a false notion in young Miranda’s 10-year-old mindset that she, too, would die young. Looking toward the future, Miranda set a vision for what her life might be like.

“I came up with a basic principle that at the very least, I want to know myself before I die,” Miranda said. “Mentally, emotionally, physically — know who I am.”

Throughout middle school and the beginning of high school, Miranda did not abide by this vow, doing poorly in her classes and escaping all social interactions. After her freshman year, she truly started the process of “findinging herself,” taking continuous risks to find out who exactly she was.

“If anything scared me, I would do that thing,” Miranda said. “The best way to get to know yourself is to put yourself in challenging situations because that tells you who you are.”

When she discovered wrestling in middle school and became committed to the sport in high school, Miranda found it integral in her identity, yet her father refused to let her continue — a gesture that she initially believed was due to her gender.

So in order to preserve their relationship, she eventually sat down with him and explained that she would have to make independent choices and that he would have to open up to her about what was troubling him.

To her father, the issue was not a matter of gender, but rather the constant concern of his immigrant family falling through the cracks.

Miranda’s parents, who were both presidents of universities, emigrated from Brazil’s military dictatorship in the 1960s, taking refuge in Canada before immigrating to the United States. To a Latino head of house with no family or friends to lean on, he had the mindset that her grades and education, not sports, were the only way to a better life. Her father’s adamancy pushed them to an agreement: She could continue wrestling as long as she maintained a 4.0 GPA.

At first Miranda didn’t do well in school out of apathy, but  ended her high school career with over a 4.0 GPA because of the conversation with her father, which she called an “essential milestone” growing up. She retook classes she failed, working hard to fulfill her promises to herself, her father and her future.

After she entered wrestling, her all-male peers presented more obstacles. To show their authority, seniors on the team tried to pressure her into quitting, which only served to motivate her to continue.

After overcoming discouragement from upperclassmen and earning their respect after her freshman and sophomore years, the team elected her as captain during her junior and senior years. The elected leadership position helped her feel more involved in the team, as the team — not the coach — had selected her.

Miranda continued wrestling through college at Stanford, where she earned a spot on the all-male Division 1 roster. One of her goals was to beat at least one male opponent in her college career, which she finally did at the very end of her five-year term.

Around the same time, women’s freestyle wrestling was announced as an event in the Olympic Games for the first time. She hadn’t even thought about participating until late in her career, when she attended the 2004 Summer Olympics Games.

Miranda fondly called wrestling a “catchall sport” — one that considers all body types and rewards the mentally tough.

“In wrestling, you are fatigued beyond anything you can possibly imagine. Every fiber gives up, and there’s no energy left to fake anything,” Miranda said. “Mentally too — so taxed, so scared — there’s nowhere to hide. That’s the cliché: You’re out there in Spandex.”

Reflecting on what became of her interest in wrestling, Miranda said a theme soon emerged: Wrestling impacted every aspect of her life positively.

“As a teenager, you can do [anything],” Miranda said. “Wrestling was very exhausting, but it provided a lot of motivation and opportunities for character building and better prepared me to handle future challenges.”

After her undergraduate studies at Stanford, she graduated from Yale Law School. Today, Miranda works as a partner at Miranda, Magden & Miranda Law Group in Salinas, which specializes in immigration, family law and bankruptcy.

As a lawyer, Miranda said she uses the lessons learnt from her teenage years to help others. She also draws on her experiences as a daughter of immigrants and someone directly affected by the challenges of a new country to connect to her clients.

Another source of inspiration for her interest in law originated from learning about her own family history. Not wanting the changing political times to be a central part of her identity, Miranda’s father only told her his heroic story when she was older.

During the severe unrest in Brazil in the 1960s, both her mother and father advocated for their beliefs in staged protests. They soon realized that they had to escape from their country through Uruguay, Chile and Canada to avoid torture before finally settling in the United States, where Miranda was born as the last of their three children.

Knowing the story made Miranda proud to “even be a tail-end to their story.” Her parents fled through three countries to provide their children the tolerance and security that Miranda grew up with.

When Miranda volunteered in an immigration project to help enrich the society after college, it was already clear to her that she had a connection and passion for law. She also felt that it would be a great privilege to fight for deserving people.

“I just feel fortunate to be on some sort of frontline to do, family by family, a little bit of good,” Miranda said. “Being an immigration lawyer has taught me that it’s all training to stand up and make the argument. Someone fought for my right. I became stronger to rely on and lean on myself because I know myself, who I am, and I worked on my weaknesses.”

Miranda credited the starting buds of her strength in character to wrestling, which gave her validation for her path to becoming an immigration lawyer.

“In order to test and work on your character, you need to have a window to reach for and work on your building blocks,” Miranda said. “[In wrestling], I passed over a threshold — normally, there isn't that avenue, and there's so many layers to hide under versus when you're exposed.”

The Falcon spoke with Miranda via a phone interview.

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