For Paralympic sitting volleyball athlete Kari Miller, the journey to this year’s London Games took a winding path.
After losing her legs in 1999 when the car she was a passenger in was struck by a drunk driver, the D.C. native and military veteran eventually re-entered athletics through the Paralympic sport of wheelchair basketball. Her first experience with the sport -- she lost to a group of children -- helped revive her competitive spirit.
“I [wanted] to learn this sport so I can make this little kid cry,” Miller recalled, laughing. “He was kicking my butt and I just wanted to be beat him.”
Miller would later play wheelchair basketball at the University of Illinois and was asked to try out for the Paralympic team. She didn’t make it.
“[The other girl] was way better than me, but let’s not say that. Let’s just say it’s because I’m too short,” Miller said. “It wasn’t like I sucked or anything, I just didn’t shoot three pointers and am not a giant, either.”
Her wheelchair basketball teammates suggested that she look into trying sitting volleyball. She wasn’t happy about the idea.
“When I looked at volleyball, I was like, ‘Little prissy girls in short shorts.’ I’m not doing it,” she said.
But after attending a tryout and getting a ball spiked in her face, well, Miller fell in love.
“I screamed and jumped out of the way,” she said. “I was like ‘This sport is awesome.’”
After missing the 2004 Paralympics in Athens, Miller made the 2006 U.S. team, which took fifth place at the Sitting Volleyball World Championships in the Netherlands. Since then, she’s tasted Paralympic glory, helping her team win a silver medal in Beijing.
Still, she hasn’t forgotten her military background or her hometown. She’s donated her time to the Paralympic Military program at Walter Reed in Bethesda, Md., setting up sports tournaments and lending a helping hand and a willing ear to wounded veterans and their families.
“[The families] ask me questions: ‘How do you do this?’ 'How do you drive?’” Miller said. “That’s really important because I didn’t have that person to bounce it off of.”
Though she trains in Oklahoma and hasn’t been around D.C. as much as she would have liked, she appreciates the warmth and support of the city, particularly from her family, and tries to make it make it back to the city once every two months.
“You can always feel the love there,” Miller said. “Anything I do, they’re always like, ‘You go girl!’”
As London approaches, Miller is full of enthusiasm. More than anything, she’s itching to get out there again and resume competitive play on the world stage.
“[The team] keeps training, beating up on each other,” she said. “Now I want to beat up on other people.”
Indeed, Miller has lofty expectations for the upcoming games, with her eyes on the No. 1-ranked sitting volleyball team in the world.
“We’re going to go and kick China’s butt,” she promised. “We’re going to go over there and spank them. That’s the expectation.”