This is the second of a five-part series profiling the Hawkeye Wrestling Club’s women’s freestyle wrestlers. Today’s story is on Kayla Miracle, a two-time U.S. Open Champion and a multiple-time age-level world-teamer.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex, Olympic rings hang on the wall while wrestlers jog in a circle. It's a fitting backdrop for those about to go to work, a reminder of their ultimate goal.
On a recent Thursday, Kayla Miracle is running with the group. At the second turn, she slows up and does a roundoff into a backflip. Moments earlier, she spoke of how she shares the same dream as many of the guys training in the room.
“Since I was four, I’ve had the goal of being an Olympic gold medalist,” Miracle said. “I’ve always had those aspirations, but it’s become a reality over time.”
Miracle is one of five female freestyle wrestlers that trains with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. She is among the country’s best at 62 kilograms (136 pounds). She’s one of the favorites at this week’s U.S. Open in Las Vegas, the first step toward what she hopes to be her first Senior world team later this summer.
There isn’t much Miracle hasn’t accomplished on the mat. In 2012, she became the first girl to qualify for the Indiana state high school wrestling tournament, more-than-impressive considering Indiana boasts just one wrestling class. She won four collegiate national titles. She’s won two U.S. Open crowns and has made many age-level world teams. She's 22 years old.
Before all the success, though, there was one tiny hurdle Miracle had to clear — her father.
Lee Miracle is a Navy veteran of more than 20 years and spent just as much time coaching wrestling at all levels. He wrestled one year at Heidelberg College before joining the Navy. His oldest son, Shawn, wrestled at West Point. His two youngest, Hope and Cale, wrestle, too.
As such, the daughter always tagged along for wrestling practice. She climbed the ropes while Lee taught technique. One day, Kayla asked him if she could wrestle. Lee was hesitant — at least at first.
“I had some girls come wrestle before, but they had never come out for the right reasons,” he said. “So I wasn’t thrilled about it at that point in time. But she came out and loved it. That was the biggest thing. She really enjoyed doing it. It made her happy.
“Once she learned to go out and hit doubles, she was killing kids.”
Added Kayla: “He tried to get me to quit. He made practices as tough as he could, but I was like, ‘This is so fun!’ I was just a little kid, but I think he saw that I was really about this.”
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Kayla was a natural. She won a Washington freestyle state championship in her first year. The family moved to Indiana before Kayla started middle school. As an eighth-grader, she competed against high school juniors and seniors at the Junior freestyle national championships. She won her first match, then was disqualified because she was too young.
The next year, Kayla made the Cadet world team. The year after, she finished second at the Cadet world championships. When she was 16, she entered the 2013 U.S. Open. Her first match was against Helen Maroulis, the eventual Olympic gold medalist in 2016. Maroulis won by fall.
Kayla lost her next match and was eliminated from the tournament, and Lee lights up at what happened next.
“After her second loss, we were sitting behind the stands, and she’s crying,” he recalled. “But then she looked up and said, ‘This is never going to happen again. I’m winning this next year.’ That was her attitude.
“She didn’t have one of her best tournaments that day, but it reconfirmed to me that she was going to be great.”
That same year, Lee was hired as the head women’s wrestling coach at Campbellsville. Kayla wrestled for him and became just the fourth wrestler to win four Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association national titles. Along the way, she led the Lady Tigers to a national team crown and won two bronze medals at the Junior world championships.
In the past 18 months, Kayla has turned in some of her best results. She’s defeated multiple age-level world champions. She was ranked No. 1 in the world for a time. She joined the Hawkeye Wrestling Club to pursue the goal she set when she first started wrestling.
“She’s really talented,” said Terry Steiner, the U.S. women’s national team coach and a former Iowa wrestler. “But a lot of it comes down to knowing that you’ve put the time in and deserve to win.
“For her, environment is a big thing. So being in the right environment, being around the Iowa program, that’ll really help.”
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Last summer, Kayla narrowly missed out on the Senior world team, falling to Mallory Velte, two matches to one, at Final X. Velte went on to win bronze at the world championships, meaning Kayla will have to beat her in order to make the team.
Kayla is up for the challenge. That’s why she started wrestling. That’s why she joined the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. That’s why she glances at those Olympic rings inside the wrestling room every day before practice.
“I’ve had a lot of success growing up,” Miracle said, “but on the international scene, it’s been something of a struggle to take that next step. Here, I’m in a really great training situation. I have the best coaches in the world. I have some amazing training partners.
“I love it. Iowa is great. Iowa is home. I can see the growth, and I’m excited to make it count when it needs to count.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
OTHER HAWKEYE WRESTLING CLUB WOMEN'S WRESTLERS STORIES
KAYLA MIRACLE RÉSUMÉ
- 2018 U23 world team
- 2018 U.S. Open champ
- 2018 WCWA champ
- 2017 U23 world team
- 2017 U.S. Open champ
- 2017 University national champ
- 2017 WCWA champ
- 2016 Junior world bronze medalist
- 2016 WCWA champ
- 2015 WCWA champ