Just realised I haven’t written a blog post since March, how dare I! People need to know what is happening in the life of Stephen Miller. Mind you most of what has happened since March has been well covered by the local media, much to the annoyance of everyone in the North East I’m sure. Just realised I’ve done that annoying egomaniac thing of talking about myself in the third person, must try to stop doing that sorry. Well it’s International Persons with Disabilities Day (at least it was when I started writing this), so seems like as good a day as ever to start writing again.
Give me a second while I skim through my last blog post to find out what I was blathering on about nine months ago…
Damn, I used that joke last time, hmm. OK I need to up my game in this blog writing lark. This year was supposed to be a quiet year following last year’s whirlwind. However, with having my wedding to prepare for, that was never going to be the case, throw in a full athletics season and starting a business and we have another whirlwind year – but I wouldn’t want it any other way. Life is for doing, and doing is winning, and winning is errr… standard I guess.
On the 2nd of March my consultant give me the all clear to start throwing again just 6 months after my total hip replacement. One month later, exactly 7 months since my operation, I competed in an open meeting at Kingston upon Thames. Probably the first time I’d competed pain free for 5 years – it felt damn good! I threw unbelievably well getting 29.45m, which was about 3 metres further than I managed in London. It was just a great feeling to be back throwing like myself again. Unfortunately the day was slightly soured by a classification error with another athlete, I’ve been on the wrong end of a few classification errors so it’s something I take very seriously. However this was eventually sorted out and I have to applaud British Athletics on their openness and honesty in this instance. Classification is still the biggest threat to fair competition in disability sport and we need everyone pulling in the same direction to make sure we get it right every time, because there’s no going back after we get it wrong.
After my return to competing in April I was loving being back and loving training. It was something I could look forward to again, rather than dread because of the pain I knew I would have to endure. Speedflex played a huge part in my speedy recovery along with the physiotherapy I received from The Performance Clinic and my Chiropractic treatment at Think Chiropractic. They all helped pick up the pieces from my surgery and ensure I could train as normal.
Speedflex in particular provided essential support by providing sponsorship as well as access to their training facilities in Jesmond. I hadn’t set any targets at the beginning of the year but after starting to throw again my competitive nature kicked in and I set a target of 32 metres for the season. Physically I started dramatically improving as I got to grips with the Speedflex machines and discovered what they were capable of.
When I started training at Speedflex I thought it might be a bit limited and that I would have to supplement the work I did there with weights. However I discovered you can do weight training with the Speedflex machines by setting a weight onto the bar. Basically, without boring you to death, I was able to do weight training without risk of dropping the bar. This was ideal for me because it meant I could be more aggressive with my lifting, I was more symmetrical and I could work in one direction, meaning I could have more load and less risk of injury – brilliant for power training. I supplemented this with medicine ball training and it worked extremely well.
I hadn’t thought too much about the IPC World Championships, but I did say if I could get selected it would be a big bonus. As the season progressed I started feeling more confident with my throwing, I was hitting some very nice distances in training but not quite converting that to competition. Then in the CP Sport Grand Prix at Chelmsford I threw 31.67m – the furthest for well over two years, of course I put it all down to my new Newcastle United sweatbands. I went one better in the BWAA grand prix in June, throwing 32.23m, a beautifully symmetrical result and my first time over 32 metres since 2010. I was selected for my 5th IPC World Championships by UKAthletics which was a very proud moment for me. It all seemed too easy, and it was.
This year IPC started a global grand prix series to try and build on the success of London and to create more competitive opportunities for the best athletes in the world. This was definitely something that has needed to happen for a long time, so I was excited to be invited to the series final in Birmingham. My coach and I took the brave decision to change throwing frame because I’d been throwing so well from my new frame. I really wanted a good performance in front of a home crowd, but conditions were totally against us with a strong head wind and I only managed a modest 28.79m. Very disappointing, but I did manage to (just) win the competition, and it was nice to win an international again even if the field wasn’t as competitive as it could’ve been.
The week before the Birmingham Grand Prix I was presented with the Freedom of Gateshead from Gateshead Borough Council. The ceremony was done at Gateshead Stadium which was very fitting given that I’ve been associated with Gateshead Harriers for almost all of my athletics career. It was also nice because my mam grew up in Gateshead, also I’ve worked in Gateshead for 13 years so I have very strong connections with the area. I was humbled to see so many people come along, including North East legends Mike Neville, Bob Moncur and Brendan Foster. Brendan also did a great speech, I reckon someone must’ve wrote it for him. I now have freedom of Northumberland and Gateshead, I’m slowly taking over the North East.
Just a few weeks later I jetted off to Lyon for the IPC World Championships, I have good memories of competing in France having won Gold and Silver in Lille in the 2002 World Championships. Back then I set a new world record of 31.32m, now it stands at over 37m – that’s how disability sport progresses. I was hoping for a good performance but due to IPC completely changing the points system I knew a medal would be unlikely. I targeted a top 3 finish in my own class. Lyon endured a heat wave for the duration of the championships, it was definitely the hottest conditions I’ve ever competed in. Two days before my competition a physio gave me ice on the back of my neck to cool down after my session, I think my Cerebral Palsy must’ve reacted badly to it as the next I couldn’t look up or right and left. It’s unfortunate, I still threw a respectable 31.57m but I think the neck problem took a metre or two off my throw. I finished 7th overall and 3rd in my classification.
The new seated throw rules come into force next year, meaning that athletes must stay seated at all times during the throwing action. This will make it much fairer for all athletes and means athletes who can stand or walk don’t get an advantage over those who can’t. There are also no more combined events moving forward, so no more battling with the dreaded points system. These are very positive changes and will have long term benefits for disability athletes, as the goalposts shouldn’t be constantly changing.
I enjoyed the championships, it was good to be competing like my old self again and mixing it with the big boys in my class. It’s true I was bitterly disappointed at being exited from the World Class Performance Programme last year, and it was nice that I could come back from my surgery and show that it just wasn’t me in London. Make no mistake it’s been tough rehabbing from a total hip replacement but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year, the support of Speedflex has been so important, and it meant I could focus totally on my recovery with no pressure on my shoulders. Of course I always put pressure on myself but it was nice to have a bit more of a laid back approach this year.
Still, being the professional I am, I made sure my stag do was after the World Championships. Unfortunately what goes on stag stays on stag, well apart from all the stuff on twitter and facebook. I actually ended up having two stag dos, in Leeds and Newcastle, I can vouch that Leeds is a great night out and errrrm very diverse.
Time has gone so quick this year, and before I knew it I was at the Hilton Hotel preparing to get married to my amazing fiancé Rachel. I don’t think anything can prepare you for your wedding day, it’s such a simple thing and yet an enormous life moment. All the work and expense that goes into the day and you just want everything to go well, the feeling in the morning was the same as before a major competition. My main concern was my inability not to cry when hearing the song Rachel had picked to walk down the aisle – A Thousand Years by Christina Perri – I even put it on my Ipod and listened to it on a loop the night before. Yet as soon as that song started and Rachel appeared round the corner with her dad, I bubbled like a baby – big girl that I am. Thankfully I did get it together in time for the vows.
My other concern was my claim that I would walk Rachel back down the aisle once she became my wife. I’d pretty much forgotten about this until the weeks approaching the wedding, so I hadn’t done a lot of practice. I even spent a couple of hours in the Metro Centre finding shoes I could walk in and that wouldn’t fall off my feet. I didn’t realise how long the aisle was going to be, but I guess we did have quite a few people at the wedding. Safe to say I managed it pretty well, helped by adrenaline and Rachel’s arm, it was a really great moment, and something I didn’t think I’d be able to do a year ago.
The whole day was fantastic, everything we hoped for. I had copped some stick from Alan Shearer for having my wedding day on the same day as a Newcastle United home game, but it turned out to be a boring 0-0 draw so we didn’t miss much. We are so happy that so many of our friends and family came along to share the special day, and were blown away by all the kind presents we received.
We quickly jetted off on honeymoon, going to Vancouver for a week, Seattle for a night and finished it off with six nights in Las Vegas. It truly was the holiday of a lifetime and we packed as much as we could into every day. Vancouver is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to, Seattle is a very cool city and Vegas is just plain mental – it was everything I hoped for. I was very brave, considering I’m scared of heights, I went up a mountain in a cable car (the longest unsupported in the world), I went up the Space Needle in Seattle, and stood at the edge of the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon freaked me out the most, I just couldn’t get me head around people walking along the edge of a 6,000 foot cliff with nothing to stop them going over the edge.
After two week of constant eating and drinking I wasn’t feeling the healthiest upon my return, but you only get one honeymoon, right? I had stupidly entered the CP Sport Nationals which was the weekend after I flew back from Vegas. So I went straight back into training to try and get back into some kind of shape, my first session back at Speedflex was very unpleasant indeed and resulted in me running to be sick straight afterwards, I guess not everything stays in Vegas. I did the competition and just won, but that is as much as I can say about it in a positive fashion. I knew then it was time to start winter training.
I got the fantastic news in November that British Athletics had decided to put me back onto World Class Performance Lottery Funding. I was disappointed to be dropped last year but equally I was suprised to be put back on this year, I had a good year though and I’m proud that others believe in me again. It’s a huge boost as we build up to Rio.
This will be my first proper winter for two years, I’m looking forward to getting back in peak physical condition and pushing on to a big year with the European Championships coming up in August. I won my 3rd European title in 2012 and I’m looking to make it four in a row in Swansea next year. I will spend a lot of time at Speedflex this winter and I’m going to be trying new things with the Speedflex machines and seeing exactly what they are capable of. The rest of my training is done at Gateshead college’s Academy for sport where I do my technical based work. Winter is where you make the majority of your gains for the following year, so it has to be attacked.
Speaking of attacking, I entered Speedflex’s November Index challenge, it’s worked out by dividing the calories you burn in a 45 minute session by your weight in kilograms – I’m a competitive animal so was obviously up for the challenge, there were some great prizes on offer. I absolutely destroyed my session, spending over 45 minutes with my heart rate above 90% of maximum and I burnt 877 calories, my previous best was 803, my weight on the day was 64kg giving me an index score of 13.70. I just about hung on to top spot for the rest of November, a few people came very close but I won it by .08, so I opted for the prize of an executive box at Newcastle United on Boxing Day! I had to work for it though and think I’m still recovering now. It shows how Speedflex is so great at leveling the playing field that a wheelchair user could win a fitness challenge like that, there was also a 70 year old woman in the top 20 which is great to see.
Long old blog this one, but it’s been a hell of a year. The last bit is about the company that my wife Rachel and I have founded called SMILE Through Sport. It stands for Stephen Miller Inspiring Learning and Enjoyment Through Sport. SMILE for short, is a Community Interest Company (CIC) and therefore is not for profit. It is something we have had on the back burner for a while, and circumstances mean that we finally have the time and resources to get it started. We’re both passionate about sport and the benefits taking part in sport can have for disabled people, we also know the problems disabled people can have in accessing sporting opportunities. Through SMILE we hope to help create more opportunities for disabled people to take part in sport and raise awareness of disability sport, working very much at grass roots level. We are currently based at Gateshead College, who we are in partnership with, we are helping deliver their Paralympic legacy. Also we have had great support from Speedflex who are sponsoring our website which is launching very soon, as well as Muckle solicitors and Dan Prince Photography who have given tremendous service.
SMILE Through Sport will provide a range of services based around the three key themes of Inspiration, Education and Enjoyment. These services include inspirational speaking programmes, disability awareness and sport specific courses, provision of sporting activity and an engagement and inclusion consultancy.
The mission of SMILE Through Sport is to:
“Provide and encourage high quality disability sports opportunities while inspiring individuals to participate, ultimately improving the perception and culture surrounding disability sport”.
We are launching very soon so keep your eyes peeled and if you think we could help you or you could help us, don’t hesitate to get in touch – either Stephen@smilethroughsport.com or Rachel@smilethroughsport.com.
Just remains to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year – Aim High and Prosper!