Continued from page 2

The best medicine

It was like a switch was flipped inside her daughter, Lanauze said.

Miller wasn’t even out of the National Rehabilitation Hospital before the idea of adaptive sports was first mentioned to her. While receiving treatment there, Miller was introduced to someone who played wheelchair basketball.

She had spent her whole life playing the sport, so she decided to give it a try. The return to normalcy made Miller’s spirits soar.

“Her ‘Woe is me’? I haven’t heard that since,” Lanauze said. “I mean, she just walks around. She wants to go to the club. She goes horseback riding. She goes to the beach.”

Miller started playing wheelchair basketball for the University of Illinois in 2004 and was even invited to try out for the U.S. national team. When she didn’t make it, a teammate asked her if she had ever considered playing sitting volleyball.

“I was like, ‘First of all, in volleyball they wear the booty shorts. That is not happening,’” said a laughing Miller. “‘I’m a very girly girl, but I’m not going to wear booty shorts.’”

Unconvinced, she reluctantly agreed to give the new sport a chance. Before long, she was hooked.

The rules are similar to traditional volleyball, but the net is only about 3.5 feet high (compared to 7 feet, 4 inches), the court is smaller, and players must have at least one buttock on the floor when contacting the ball.

Miller had never played volleyball. But after more than a year of preparation and one failed attempt to make the U.S. team, she finally was selected in 2006. That same year, she competed in the world championships in The Netherlands. As the libero, a defensive specialist, Miller helped lead the U.S. sitting volleyball team to a fifth-place finish.

“You know when you’re in something but it’s like a dream? It’s like, ‘What am I doing here? Am I going to wake up?’” Miller said. “It was crazy because you never expect to be doing something like that in your life.”

Two years later, Lanauze watched as the daughter she witnessed fall time and time again on her new legs stand firmly atop the podium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics to receive a silver medal alongside her U.S. teammates.

Lanauze’s words drip with pride as she raves about her daughter’s resiliency. Charlie Huebner, chief of the Paralympics for the U.S. Olympic Committee, gets those same feelings anytime he’s in Miller’s presence.

“Her life changed pretty significantly, but you look at her today, she’s educated, she’s employed, she’s representing her country again,” Huebner said. “She’s just an incredible role model, not just for injured military or disabled veterans, but for every American.”

A new purpose

Story Continues →