Alumni Spotlight: Miranda Knowles

Recently, Arbor Alumna Miranda Knowles was featured in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (AJC) as part of their Women’s History Month coverage. The article, entitled “Women Making History,” recognized her as one of five women who are “Atlanta visionaries changing the world for the better.” Miranda spoke at length about the article at Paideia’s Gender Day; the speech is reproduced in full below.

I was actually going to talk about something else today. It was going to be really interesting, a story about my gendered experience with health care and how dangerous it is not to listen to women about their symptoms. There would have been graphs and statistics and even cute baby pictures to show that women’s bodies are strong even through unnecessary pain and suffering. That’s what I was going to talk about, but on Sunday, the Atlanta Journal Constitution published an article entitled “Women Making History” as part of their Women’s History Month coverage. They recognized me as one of 5 women who are quote “Atlanta visionaries changing the world for the better.” 

But I didn’t read the article when my mom first sent me a photo of it. In my heart, I knew what would be in it and I didn’t want to see it.

The initial interview left me feeling skeptical as the reporter finished by asking me to share my husband’s contact information. My husband, Matthew, was surprised when he answered the call and heard a man’s voice coordinating women’s history month coverage. Not that men who are reporters can’t report stories on women, they absolutely should, but it seemed like a missed opportunity to amplify women in a woman’s voice. Both times the reporter talked to me he asked me multiple questions about how I coach Matthew on the Atlanta Hustle, the men’s professional ultimate team here. It seemed that he found that more interesting than my actual accolades or experience. As ultimate frisbee has professionalized, I’ve been interviewed many times and it has happened before that interviewers, usually old white men, get fascinated by this one aspect of who I am, as defined by my marriage to a man. In fact the first line of the article is “Is it a challenge to be the head coach when your husband is on the team?”

Some of the good stuff is in the AJC article—that I was recently inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame, that I am the only person to win gold at the World Games as a player and a coach, that I coach the most successful and long standing girls’ high school ultimate program in the state. But all of that is in the second column. The first column is, well, about my husband.

Because, see, I do coach my husband. He is good at ultimate—good enough to be on the Atlanta men’s professional team that I coach and good enough to make the 20-person rosters to which we are limited for each game. He’s not the most skilled or athletic on the team; he’s a defensive specialist, playing at the front of our zone which takes extreme effort, endurance and awareness. In a single game, he runs about 6 miles chasing the disc from side to side of a field that is 53 1/3 yards wide to help our team. His doing this for the last 8 years, and even now into his late 30s, is in many ways an expression of his love for his teammates—it is a role that is thankless and bereft of glory—and also an expression of his love for me, his coach—this position is undesirable in its unrelenting nature and when he retires from playing, the team may no longer be able to utilize the strategy that has been our most successful. I created this defense because I know Matthew; how he can push himself to keep challenging thrower after thrower, sometimes for 5 or 6 minutes on end, and our team often succeeds because of him, because of this defense we built together. It is part of our love story.

Matthew has also made it easier for me to coach men in ultimate. When I first started coaching the Hustle 9 years ago, many of the athletes didn’t recognize or respect me, even though I am a multinational champion player and have coached many of the most successful current players when they were youths. I played in the women’s division and had my first ultimate coaching career in Seattle, making my experience inaccessible or irrelevant to my new athletes, adult men in Atlanta. Matthew educated his teammates on my experience, my expertise, my care of all my athletes. He looked at me and listened to me as I led drills and film sessions and little, by little, his teammates followed his lead and now, I feel commanding and powerful in every huddle. Matthew amplifies and elevates my voice to enable my transcending gender norms in sports. So, no, it is not a challenge to be the head coach when my husband is on the team—it is a joy, it is easier than if he weren’t on the team, and in this day and age, might have been the lynchpin that helped me feel comfortable in this job. This, too, is part of our love story.

But I don’t really think Sunday’s article was meant to be our love story. I was one of three coaches of Team USA ultimate frisbee at the World Games this summer, the international competition for sports who have not yet entered the Olympics. The other two coaches, incidentally, also coach their partners – it is not strange in our sport or honestly, in any sport. But their stories are unremarkable because they are men coaching their wives, a power dynamic that is comfortable and the norm in our society. We three coaches are noteworthy because of our accomplishment in leading our team to the 5th consecutive USA gold medal at the world games, but that is not what most people notice about me—they see me here on the fields of Silverbacks Park, surrounded by attentive male athletes, one of whom is my husband.

I don’t want to be ungrateful. I am so proud to be pictured alongside these other four amazing women: a filmmaker, a medical director, a restauranteur, and an artist. But if I am one of these “visionaries changing the world for the better,” I suppose my vision is to look forward to the future and see women, perhaps many of you, who are powerful, like me, in the classroom, on the field, in the lab and on the court. And while you may very well be supported in allyship by your partners of all genders, I also see this power in women standing on its own for all to see, without needing to be defined by the roles of men in their lives. Thank you.