“My parents expect the best out of all of us (brothers). I’m grateful that they allowed me to be the first in the family to try something different. Diving was something no one else did and I liked the uniqueness of it.”
-Jean Luc Miralda ’17 of Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Growing up in a country where soccer is king and almost every other athletic activity is treated like the court jester, Hope College junior Jean Luc Miralda found a sport that fit his gregarious, expressive personality.
Actually, it would be more appropriate to say the sport found him.
In Honduras, the “beautiful game” captivates the nation like no other. Soccer reigns glorious in Honduran hearts and minds, and Miralda is no exception. He loves the sport like any fanatic should. Eats up every bit of news about his national team. Can kick around the soccer ball with above-average aplomb.
But like any good court jester playing beside his majesty, Miralda uses his own brand of individuality to create performances of his choosing. Guided into swimming by his parents at the age of two, the Honduran happened upon his eventual chosen sport – diving – out of sheer boredom and unmitigated magnetism. There is simply no better way to explain it.
Now, the once accidental diver is a two-time All-Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) athlete, a four-time Hope College record-holder, and a 2016 Rio Olympics hopeful. Not bad for a court jester who gave the king the boot.
“I was 10 years-old,” Miralda begins to retell his aquatic tale, “and one day I was getting bored at swimming practice, doing the same thing in the pool every day, down and back, down and back. So, I just started doing backflips off the pool deck. The national diving coach saw me, and he came up to me and said, ‘Boy, you got talent. You want to be a diver?’”
The boy did, but he had to get permission from his parents first. All three of his brothers swam, so Miralda was expected to swim, too. Yet, his parents—Wilmer Miralda, a civil engineer, and Ivonne Nasser, a cosmetologist—knew they had free spirit in their own gene pool. After some serious household debate and after winning two gold medals in Latin American youth competitions a year after he started, Miralda was hooked on diving and his parents approved… but with two stipulations: Work hard in school, too, and aim high.
“My parents expect the best out of all of us (brothers)” Miralda says, who graduated from the American School of Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital. “I’m grateful that they allowed me to be the first in the family to try something different. Diving was something no one else did and I liked the uniqueness of it. I like to follow my own path. I guess it’s just who I am.”
His Hope diving coach, Zack Golin, likes who Miralda is, too: that fun guy who lightens up van rides and the pool deck with his idiosyncratic humor, and that passionate diver who wants to make his parents, school, and country proud. When Miralda arrived at Hope and stepped his bouncing feet onto the fiberglass diving boards in Hope’s Kresge Natatorium, Golin saw a raw set of skills but excellent mechanics. Old wooden diving boards were all Miralda had to train on in Honduras, and they limited his flight time and dive difficulty. But after two seasons at Hope, Miralda’s scores started to soar (he was one position away from making the NCAA Division III national meet last year) while his massively extroverted and joyful personality remained grounded.
“Jean Luc makes his presence known on the pool deck and it’s amazing to see how much our divers, and even competitors, lighten up when he is cracking jokes and trying to make friends with everyone he sees,” says Golin. “The fun spirit and passion that we bring into the pool is contagious and Jean Luc is a major contributor to that. Sometimes I swear he knows every diver in the country.”
With his third Hope diving season just barely underway, Miralda has set three goals that could be attained within the next six months: win the MIAA league meet, qualify for the NCAA Division III national meet, and receive an invitation to represent Honduras at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Admittedly, the first two are realistically within Miralda’s reach; the third is a bit tenuous, especially after a trying experience while diving in an outdoor pool and El Nino winds at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico, a year ago. There, at a major Olympic qualifier, he finished 11th and 12th on the one- and three-meter boards, respectively. He needed to finish in the top three for automatic selection, but he will get another opportunity to qualify at the upcoming FINA Diving World Series.
Like his entry into diving, Miralda found Hope by accident, too. And, once again, he cut another trail away from family norms. Each of his brothers is a Worcester (Massachusetts) Polytechnic University alum or student, and each is an engineer. The third-oldest Miralda “stumbled upon” Hope through the common application process, and, now as a communication major and leadership minor, is currently, and appropriately, researching comparative, cross-cultural happiness depicted in photos and narrative responses with Dr. Dede Johnston, professor of communication. After he graduates, Miralda wants to work as a leader in mentorship programs for youth. That makes perfect sense, for this young man of influence is also a leader in Hope’s Student Congress and Latin Student Organization as well as the initiator of a proposed trustee mentor program with Dean Richard Frost.
“Jean Luc is incredibly engaging and very unafraid. His self-confidence is one of his greatest assets,” says Ernesto Villarreal, Hope’s assistant director of multicultural education. “He has travelled so far from home and has grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns. And to his credit, he has found people to walk alongside him.”
“Coming to Hope was the best decision I could have made,” declares Miralda. “I never thought I’d love a place as much as I love Hope or as much as I loved home. I’m in a great community and have an awesome host family. My team is super supportive. I’m comfortable being exactly who I am here. I don’t feel like an outsider or another number. I am Jean Luc bringing new ideas and making a difference.”