Up next on the CUL-DE-SAC we take some time to talk with Paralympic athlete Desiree Miller. You may have seen her on a certain major sport retailer commercial that rhymes with "STICK’S" Sporting Goods this year, wheeling across the screen in her preparation for this year's Rio Olympics. Yes, I said wheeling. Desiree is one of the women fighting for gold in this year’s wheelchair basketball Paralympics. She gave us some time out of her busy schedule to talk about her journey to win gold for the USA. We are pumped to have her be part of the community.
You play Basketball for the U.S.A. Paralympic team. At what point did that sink in? What is your story? How did you get to where you are today?
I was born with my disability (a rare form of Spina Bifida) and for me, when I was young, I could see no difference between myself and my able bodied friends. I tried my best to keep up with them whether it was riding bikes, climbing trees, or playing sports. As I got older it increasingly became more difficult for me to keep up with everyone until at some point I finally gave up on the idea of normal, able bodied sports and focused my attention in other areas such as art, reading, and even motorcycle racing. It wasn't until I was about 16 that I met a newly injured girl named Eve at a summer camp for people with disabilities. She started talking to me about wheelchair basketball and at first I told her no, I wouldn't come to a practice. At the time I didn't use a wheelchair in my every day life so I could not understand why I would play a sport that requires wheelchairs. I wanted to be "normal," just like everyone else, and the thought of using a wheelchair for sport or every day life seemed like giving up to me. For two years I brushed the idea off until finally she convinced me to go to a practice in Seattle, WA. After my first practice, I was hooked. I got to see the wide range of people with disabilities that participated in wheelchair basketball and I was able to push my body to the limit while finally feeling like I found a community that I could call my own. I played Junior Ball for about 6 months before being recruited to play for the University of Alabama on a scholarship. While completing my bachelor's my team won two collegiate championships, then I continued on to the University of Wisconsin Whitewater to complete a master's degree and win three back-to-back to back collegiate titles.
During this time I was invited to attend tryouts for the U.S.A. team in 2007 and I have been a part of the U.S.A. team off and on since then. I attended the Paralympic games in London 2012 where U.S.A. placed 4th. I have won numerous gold medals at various games and even an MVP title and a few other accolades. For me, the idea of being on the U.S.A. team always seems to set in every year as I make my way to another tryouts. I didn't get to make the team in 2008 as they headed to the Beijing China Paralympics to win gold. Still to this day, after spending almost 10 years on the U.S.A. team, even being a captain and co-captain for some of the years, I still get nervous butterflies every time I head to a tryouts. I try to soak in every moment when I am with this team because I know it is not going to last forever.
What was a major point in your career that made you second guess your choice to go for gold?
There has been many times while being on the U.S.A. team, after countless hours in the gym doing the same workouts, feeling my body wear down, missing weddings, baby showers, special family events, that I have thought to myself "Why am I doing this?" This year in particular has been filled with many trials and tribulations, life changes, heart aches, obstacles, and late night thoughts of "Why?" But when I get to be with my team, who by now is like my second family, competing with 11 other women and six staff members, all with the same goal in mind and all making the same sacrifices, there is something to be said in the power of a shared dream. It's empowering, cathartic, healing, frustrating, trying, and beautiful to share this journey with my second family.
I have heard that you are the "LeBron James of Paralympic basketball" Does that mean anything to you?
Haha! I am not sure where you heard this, but I would argue against it. I see myself as more of a supportive role. I try to fill whatever my team needs at the time. If we need a scorer, I'll look to the hoop, if we need a stop on defense, I'll go out and meet the opponent with tenacity, if we need a calm presence on the floor, I'll take a breath and be specifically direct with my words. I am not one who looks for or wants the spotlight. I find more satisfaction in seeing and helping my teammates find success than actually achieving it myself. That being said, there are many times on the floor where I mess up, say the wrong thing in the wrong tone, get frustrated, not perform my best, but I guess everyone could say that at any point in their lives. In the end, my team is fighting for our dream. In the end, we're fighting for gold.
To date, you have a great amount of success. What kind of hardware (medals) do you have?
- Gold at the Parapan American Games (2007, 2011, 2015)
- Gold at World Championships (2010)
- Gold at the U25 Women's World Championships (2011)
- 4th at the London Paralympics (2012)
- 4th at World Championships (2014)
Anything up to this point stand out to you? Like a time where you walked on court and thought to yourself "Oh God, what am I doing here?" or "Oh God, I'm going to crush this?"
At my first Paralympic Games in 2012, I can remember stepping out onto the court for the first time for a practice, seeing how massive the stands were, how much space was behind the hoop, the London Games logos everywhere, and looking down at my chest to see U.S.A. and feeling completely overwhelmed emotionally. I was scared to death, excited, thankful, and felt very small, like I was a part of something so much bigger than myself.
I'm not sure I've ever gone into a game thinking "I'm going to crush this." I do a lot of breathing and visualization before games to get myself at a level where I am not too jacked, but not too calm either. It's such a fine balance and very difficult (especially for me) to achieve and maintain. My biggest weakness, and something I work on daily is my mental game. It's a challenging thing to work on, however I find that it not only benefits me on the court but also in my every day life as well.
What would you like for our community to know about you? Besides playing basketball, what gets you excited?
I love to go do things with people I love, whether it's going out to eat, seeing a movie, camping (when there's time), sitting around a fire, late night drives, going to concerts, fairs, or markets. I am a huge nerd and avid video game player, fantasy book reader, and sci-fi movie watcher. I am a new proud parent of a fluffy puppy who drives me crazy and who I love to death. I have a passion for people, getting to know them and their stories and what makes them tick. When I am sad or life feels out of control, I like to paint with acrylics or write poetry. I get excited to be with friends, family, and people I care about.
In one word tell us what community means to you?