Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in the Dec. 31-Jan. 1 issue of The Pilot-News in Plymouth, Ind. It was written by Tim Creason, who has covered Indiana high school wrestling for several years.
By TIM CREASON
To tell the truth: Kayla Miracle isn’t all that excited about high school wrestling. At least, not like she used to be.
Don’t misunderstand: Miracle still takes it seriously, still works as hard as she can. And she currently carries a 17-2 record for Culver Academies in the 126-pound weight class.
But Miracle’s wrestling career is about so much more than just beating a bunch of boys, even if she is the first girl ever to qualify for the IHSAA state wrestling finals.
College lies ahead. A senior, she has already committed to wrestle for Campbellsville University in Kentucky, where her father, Lee, is the head coach.
But even college isn’t the end of it. This is a girl that has competed all over the world, a holder of multiple national awards, one of America’s most recognizable faces when it comes to female wrestling.
If she can win an IHSAA sectional or regional championship at the end of her senior season, sure, that would be great. But eventually, it’s an Olympic gold medal she’s looking for.
The Ultimate Goal
Miracle, who came to Culver from Bloomington, has wrestled most of her life. High school is only a small part of it. When she’s not wearing an Eagle uniform, she’s traveling the country, competing in freestyle events.
In 2012, she won a silver medal at the Cadet World Championships, competing in Azerbaijan. Last summer, she won a gold medal as a member of the U.S. junior Pan American team, competing at 56 kilograms (about 123 pounds) in a tournament in Chile.
Compared to that, winning a high school dual meet is . . . well . . .
“I still want to win every match, said Miracle, a three-time semi-state qualifier. “I give 100 percent each time I go out on the mat. But, I don’t know, what I in high school isn’t as big a deal as it used to be.”
There was a time when it was everything. During her freshman season, Miracle and another outstanding female athlete – Penn’s Sarah Hildenbrandt – became the most-watched wrestlers in Indiana as they worked their way to the Merrillville semi-state. Each was trying to become the first girl in Hoosier history to reach the state finals.
That year, they didn’t make it. But during her sophomore year, Miracle did. And a media circus followed her around the mats at Conseco (now Bankers Life) Fieldhouse in Indianapolis as she lost her first-round match in the 106-pound weight class.
“I didn’t feel like I had to prove anything, but everybody saw me as ‘the girl,’” said Miracle of her state meet experience. “Really, I just wanted to be treated like every other wrestler.”
At least, after making history, Miracle sort of got her wish. Recognizing how good she is, other wrestlers have quit worrying about her gender and worry instead about not getting pinned.
She’s not ‘the girl’ so much as a tough opponent.
Still, Miracle admits high school wrestling is harder, now. Nature has done its thing and she’s grown up, and it’s a battle to even stay in the 126-pound class.
Her male opponents are bigger. More experienced. Miracle may be the most technically-perfect wrestler in the state, but sometimes the other guy is simply stronger.
It’s hard, there’s a strength factor. But there is always a way. I just have to find it.
“It’s hard, there’s a strength factor,” she said. “But there is always a way. I just have to find it.”
After this season, she doesn’t have to wrestle guys any more, unless she wants to. But her workload won’t lighten any.
The Olympic Trials are two years away. That may sound like a long time, but for a world-class athlete, it’s just around the corner. And she’s got to get ready for college wrestling, as well.
Miracle briefly thought about putting off her first two years of college in order to train full-time for a shot at an Olympic berth. But those thoughts were short-lived; she decided it wouldn’t benefit anybody. And college competition will be critical to her preparations. She knows how difficult it will be just to make the U.S. team.
“I’m going to try to make the (Olympic) team in 2016, but realistically, I know I have a better change in 2020,” she said. “I’ll be at the Trials for sure. That’s experience I don’t want to miss.”
A Second Life
Earlier this year, it looked like Miracle was putting in a lot of work for nothing. In February, the International Olympic Committee announced it was dropping wrestling from its list of sports.
When she heard the news, Miracle came unglued. “I was freaking out,” she said. “Everybody (in the wrestling community) was confused. We didn’t know what was going on.”
What was going on, most likely, was a power struggle between the IOC and the folks who run international wrestling (FILA). On Sept. 8, the IOC came to its senses and restored the sport to its Olympic program.
“I was actually in church while the IOC was voting (to restore the sport), recalls Miracle. “We were having inspections when the word came down. I had a hard time keeping my composure, I was so happy.
“When (the IOC) first said wrestling would be dropped, it was like all my dreams had died,” said Miracle. “Now that it’s back, it’s like I’ve got a second life.”
Miracle still has a couple of months of high school wrestling to go, and she would like to win a state title. What wrestler wouldn’t?
But if she doesn’t, Miracle says she’ll be OK. “My biggest goals are still ahead,” she says.
That’s something her opponents should keep in mind. It’s not just “the girl” they are wrestling.
It could be a future Olympic medal winner.