Miss FIU winner hopes to fix smiles and wrestle alligators

Photo courtesy of Fernando Ottati

Photo courtesy of Fernando Ottati

By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17

Not many pageant contestants are training to be alligator wrestlers. But sophomore biological sciences major Andrea Mirabal is not your typical pageant contestant.

On Jan. 19, Mirabal was crowned the winner of the 2014 Miss FIU scholarship pageant by the five-judge panel. She was also voted Miss Congeniality by her peers for earning their respect and admiration during the course of the competition.

As the new Miss FIU, Mirabal will receive a $1,500 scholarship and the opportunity to represent the university at the Miss Florida pageant later this year.

“I hope to send the message that you can do whatever you put your mind to and don’t be your own worst enemy,” she said. “That’s what would have happened to me if I didn’t have so many people encouraging me to do it.”

Having never competed in a pageant before, fear held Mirabal back from competing in last year’s pageant. But after her friends and family urged her to enter, she decided to go for it.

That same spirit is what got her into a gator pit.

Mirabal grew up near the Native Village cultural center, which features wildlife shows, gator shows and other attractions. The owner of the center is a close family friend and after interviewing him for a class, he offered to train her to be an alligator-wrestler.

Mirabal, who wants to go to medical school to become a pediatric reconstructive surgeon, had some reservations about getting into a ring with one of South Florida’s most dangerous predators.

“I was like ‘I want to be a surgeon, I can’t lose my fingers over this,’” Mirabal laughs. “He assured me that I would be fine, so I just went for it.”

She started off wrestling baby alligators and is still working her way up to the larger ones.

“I wrestled the biggest baby alligator they have, though,” she boasts. “The most exciting part is the adrenaline of chasing them, grabbing their tails and their necks knowing if you’re not careful they can easily turn back and snap at you.”

Miss FIU winner Andrea Mirabal is learning how to wrestle alligators at the Nature Village.

Miss FIU winner Andrea Mirabal is learning how to wrestle alligators at the Nature Village.

For the talent portion of the competition, Mirabal dazzled the audience and judges with a belly dancing performance. She has been performing at shows since the seventh grade, but this was the first time in a competitive setting.

“Usually when I perform I’m focused on how well I performed. This time I had to think about whether the judges would like it,” she said.

During her one-year tenure as Miss FIU, Mirabal hopes to advocate for Operation Smile – an international children’s medical charity that aims to provide safe, effective reconstructive surgery and related medical care to children born with facial deformities. It’s a cause she is passionate about and has inspired her to pursue a career in reconstructive surgery.

“It’s very easy to help a child get a new smile,” Mirabal said. “We can do a lot as individuals and as a university.”