By JOHN GORALSKI
Yvette Mirando waited for the judge’s signal at the 2006 New England championship, and with a short hop she exploded toward the vault like a bullet from a gun, ricocheting off the apparatus, spinning through the air, and zeroing in on her final target.
For a moment, Southington’s sharpshooting vaulter held the New England record. At the end of the meet, the junior gymnast was crowned as Southington’s second straight New England champion. Mirando’s efforts led Southington to their second consecutive regional title.
Former coach Byron Knox wasn’t surprised. He never was. In fact, when Mirando led the team again the following year, and the Knights captured their third consecutive New England title, the coach said that Mirando was always the key to Southington’s team success. She was either great…or perfect.
“With Yvette, we’re not sure sometimes what we’re going to get,” Knox told reporters at her final high school meet. “She capable of scoring a 9.9, and she’s capable of scoring an 8.9.”
Of course, whatever she did, it was usually enough to earn finish in the top six. During Southington’s dynastic reign, Mirando was the most consistent scorer. No Southington gymnast has earned as many postseason medals (40), and she’s probably the record holder in the state or the region if anybody kept those sorts of records.
When she hit her routine, there was no question. She was the champion. When she missed, they were still heaping medals on her like a tourist at a Hawaiian airport.
“Yvette was more of a solid, all-around athlete, but she might make a little misstep here and there that kept her off the top of the podium,” said Knox. “She was clearly a first place athlete, but she was a quiet athlete, so she didn’t always catch everyone’s attention. But she did a tremendous job for us. She was our ace in terms of consistency.”
Mirando is the one that turned a championship team into a dynasty. When Southington’s first New England champion, Kristy Dougan, was slowed by injuries in 2006, Mirando stepped into the spotlight and led them through the postseason. She captured the Class L title, finished second at the state open, and returned to the top of the podium at the regional meet.
It wasn’t as easy as it looked. Mirando was a gymnast that preferred to be in the shadows, quietly executing her routines while her teammates earned the glory…but her team needed her composure.
“Yvette was a more dynamic gymnast, but she would wait in the wings and sort of not try to steal the spotlight,” said Knox. But fans finally saw what teammates knew in the gym as she took center stage as a junior. “I think it has a lot to do with her patience. Take beam. It’s four feet off the ground and four inches wide. One small misbalance, and you’re off on the ground. The thing that really made her good was that we tapped into her quietness, her calmness, and her patience.”
Mirando still shrugs off her accomplishments as she reminisces in a coffee shop, balancing an infant on her lap while she tries to dodge questions about her dominance in the gym. The eight-month-old looks every bit like a gymnast’s son, jumping, wriggling, and twisting on his mother’s lap, and Mirando seems almost eager to let him take the attention off the interview.
It’s the most comfortable she looked the whole day.
“I’m not a competitive person,” she explains, shrugging off her statistics—the 15 Class L medals, the 13 state open medals, the 12 New England medals, and her three school records on vault (9.9), floor (9.575), and the All-Around competition (38.75). She ignores a question about how two of her three records were scored at postseason meets.
“That was one part of my life. I did it because I loved it, not for any sort of attention or anything,” she said. “I wasn’t looking to be recognized by anybody for what I was doing.”
It was a source of frustration to her coach, who admits to trying every way imaginable to push his athlete to perform, but Mirando seemed content to lead by example, quietly, in the gym at practice.
“She was hardcore with her work, but she wasn’t the kind of athlete that you could ride hard,” said Knox, and he should know. He coached Mirando in club gymnastics, at the high school, and even in college. “You had to use more honey than anything else, and praise, to get her to perform at her peak.”
Mirando, more than any of her teammates, was a gymnast. She followed her cousin into the gym at four years old and never left. For most of her life, Mirando was in the gym almost every day—for three or four hours each day—honing the skills that would take her to the top of a roster that was littered with top-level gymnasts.
She loved gymnastics, but there was never a point in her career where the scores or titles drove her—even though it was in competition that she really shined.
“A lot of times I do better under pressure,” she said to the Observer during her senior year of high school. “Knowing that everyone’s gone, and they’re relying on a score from me, then I really have to do well. Otherwise, it really doesn’t bother me that much.”
She was not a vocal leader. She was not caught up in petty competitive drama, and that’s what made her such a key component during Southington’s rise as one of Connecticut’s—and New England’s—best all-time teams. Knox said that Mirando was the glue, leading by example in practice.
“Outside of her gymnastics, she is just a great person. Hell, she used to babysit my daughter, Vienna,” said her former coach. “She’s a great person and a really good role model. I have nothing but nice things to say about her. She was a really sweet, young kid.”
Don’t be fooled. Mirando was a fierce trainer, and she entered competitions with the singular goal of performing perfectly. Since she wasn’t concerned with winning, the competition was always with herself, her routine, her performance, and her life between meets.
It’s why she embraced the transition from club to high school, where team records seemed more important than personal goals. It’s why she seems surprised when she learns about her own records and accomplishments.
When asked what her favorite competition was, she points to a single weekend in her senior season where she led the Knights to their third consecutive title on Saturday, landed in Ohio on Sunday to medal on beam in the national club meet, and touching ground in Hartford for a moment on Monday before heading off to Florida on Tuesday to represent Connecticut in the high school nationals.
“It was just a fun weekend,” she said with a smile. “I’m not competitive whatsoever, and because of that, I kind of just did it for myself and did it because I loved it…I loved being able to do something that a lot of people thought was impossible and working for something so hard and finally getting it and having that success.”
That’s why, when injuries finally forced her from competition as a sophomore in college, Mirando wasn’t ready to walk away. A nagging back injury—from her sophomore year in high school—had evolved into two bulging discs and other issues. Even though she led the University of Bridgeport on floor (9.775) as a freshman…and a top three scorer in most events…she decided to step away from competition.
“I finally just said, that’s it. I’m done,” she said. “I still think about it.”
But an opening as an assistant coach at Glastonbury High School grabbed her attention, and she helped the Tomahawks unseat the Knights at the Class L meet in 2011 and 2012 on their way to a 2011 state open title.
By 2014, she had moved into the head coaching position, and that’s where you’ll find her in the winter, trying to pass on her love of the sport to the next generation.
“Three minutes into the interview, it was clear that she was somebody that we wanted to have on staff here,” said Glastonbury athletic director Trish Witkin. “The impact was immediate. She has the ability to work with athletes of various skill levels. She could work with somebody that’s struggling with an event, but she can challenge the high-performing athlete as well. She brought a lot of credibility to the position because of her background as a gymnast.”
So it’s no surprise that members of the Southington Sports Hall of Fame selection committee have named Mirando as a member of the Class of 2017. No Southington graduate has been more successful—as a player or a coach—than her.
“She belongs in the hall of fame because Yvette was the mainstay of our program,” said Knox. “We would not have had the depth that we had without her, and she actually inspired a lot of our other athletes.”
“She is a product of a program that’s rich in tradition and rich in success,” said Witkin. “There’s no ego involved. She was excited to be here and excited to be a part of our program. It shows in her commitment to everything she does.”
On Wednesday, Nov. 8, Mirando will be honored in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.
To reserve tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335 or Val DePaolo at (860) 620-9460, ext. 104.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.