- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2012

Waking up in a Washington hospital bed, Kari Miller didn’t need to be told the outcome of the trauma she had just endured. She didn’t have to look down to realize she no longer had legs. Her gut told her the news she didn’t want to — couldn’t — utter.

Miller had little recollection of the car crash she and three of her friends experienced in the wee hours of that December 1999 morning. But when Miller’s mother crouched down beside her daughter’s bed to ask her if she knew what had happened, Miller knew exactly how to respond.

With a collapsed lung and breathing tube in place, Miller couldn’t speak. So instead, she scribbled down a note to let those around her know she was OK.

“Yes, I know I lost both my legs,” Miller said. “But at least now I can be as tall as I want to be.’”

They laughed. The road to recovery facing the bedridden Miller that day was long. Tears followed that laughter as she spent the next six months relearning to walk and adjusting to a new way of life. In those initial moments, she wondered if her days of normalcy were over.

Kari Miller lost both legs as the result of a car crash in December 1999. (Garett Fisbeck/Special to The Washington Times)
Kari Miller lost both legs as the result of a car crash ... more >

Unbeknownst to Miller, a journey that would twice take her to the Paralympics was just beginning.

‘My answer’

Mary Lanauze gave birth to Kari when she was just 15 years old. So the mother and daughter, who have an almost sister-like relationship, grew up together.

When Kari was a toddler, Lanauze didn’t have a car or a babysitter. So if Lanauze wanted to play basketball, she and her “walking buddy” would go together to the nearest court. It seemed only fitting that sports, particularly basketball, would be a huge part of Miller’s life.

Along with her lifelong love of athletics, Miller valued her education. When it came time for her to graduate from D.C.’s Cardozo High School, a counselor asked her what she intended to do with her life. Knowing she didn’t have the resources to pay for college, Miller began to think of alternatives.

“I realized that my mom didn’t have any real money or anything, so I was like, ‘OK, I know I need to go to college. So how do I do that?” Miller said. “And the military was my answer.”

Miller enrolled in a delayed-entry program with the Army during her senior year of high school, during which she participated in drills and learned about the military as she finished earning her diploma. Immediately after graduation in 1995, she began basic training.

Miller worked as a transportation management coordinator for the Army, a job that had her planning how units and equipment moved overseas. She was primarily stationed in Maryland, but she spent time in Korea, Bosnia and Europe during her nine years of service.

Desiring a career in the military, Miller took classes at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, working toward enough credits to be eligible for officer candidate school.

She finally reached the required number in December 1999. For Miller, a celebration was in order.

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