Last year was tough on a lot of athletes but for those aspiring, for a spot on the Olympic team, it was particularly tough.
The window of opportunity for an athlete to win that gold medal can be very small. For one athlete with local ties a year ago that window appeared to be opening when it suddenly slammed shut.
Culver Academy grad Kayla Miracle was on the verge of claiming a spot on the U.S. women’s wrestling team when the world changed.
“I was three weekends away from making my first Olympic team,” she said in a Zoom press conference on Tuesday. “I was in the best position possible so mentally I was pretty beat up but then I thought ‘take this time’. I have a few weeks — at that point, they didn’t say a whole year — so I’m going to go and visit family and hang out with people and enjoy the time off because we don’t get to do that.”
“I just distracted myself with everything,” she said. “I was not in the mindset at all that I’m going to make the Olympic team, that I’m going to win a gold medal. There were points where I thought ‘do I even want to do this?'”
A return to the mat changed all that.
“It hurt and it took a few weeks of not-so-fun workouts but I’m feeling stronger than I ever have,” said Miracle. “I’m leaner than I’ve ever been. My lungs are doing great and mentally it comes back. You find the joy within the day. It’s a grind. This isn’t fun. This isn’t the most luxurious lifestyle. But you find the joy within that grind.”
Miracle attended Culver Academy and then wrestled for her father collegiately at Campbellsville University. She was a 2019 Senior World Team member, multiple age-group World medalist, and four-time WCWA women’s college champion.
She advanced to the Finals Series, by qualifying weight at the 2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier and will wrestle for the spot in the 62-kilo weight class at next weekend’s US Olympic Team Trials in Fort Worth.
The challenge is a big one as some experts believe the 62-kilo class to be arguably the toughest to win.
“I’m definitely going to think that my weight class is the toughest, you have myself and a world Bronze medalist who’ve battled it out for two years in a row,” she said. “But you look at 50 kilos and 57 as well. So any weight class is really tough. I’m really happy to be sitting in the finals and not having to deal with the mess before. They can fight it out and let somebody come after me.”
Miracle has gotten where she is in her career by adapting herself to the challenges at hand creating what she’s dubbed “Kayla 2.0”.
“I didn’t weight train in college. Because I was fairly good with my technique and I could beat up on college girls,” she said. “It’s an iron sharpens iron type of thing. ‘Kayla 2.0’ is a real thing. A completely different mindset, physically, technically, all of it. Everything is kind of coming together.”
All that in spite of dealing with the same challenges every wrestler is dealing with — COVID protocols. Wrestlers at the Ft. Worth trials will be tested 72 hours before beginning training and then be tested every day thereafter. It has already affected day to day training for all wrestlers.
“We all have to adapt and find a way around this,” she said. “My situation is that we have a very safe training spot. We found a different place to train. We test weekly. We have our own little bubble. We are doing everything that we need to.”
If she is fortunate enough to win the trials she will be part of a U.S. team that will have qualified participants in all six weight classes for the first time.
“Coach Terry has talked a lot about beating Japan on their home soil,” she said. “Having a full lineup is a big advantage to do that and as of right now we are the only country with all six weights qualified.”
Miracle has been part of a growth in women’s wrestling in the United States and it’s something that she wants to be part of even when her competition days are over.
“Wrestling has a great culture,” said Miracle. “We always want to give back and build the sport because nobody is going to do it for us.”
“I want to see the sport get as big as it can on both the men’s and the women’s side,” she said. “I’m going to have to be part of it. I’m going to have to reach out to help these girls. I’m going to have to run camps do clinics, coach, anything that I have to do to help the sport grow.”