Purdue's Miller unfazed by obstacles
Learning disability, concussions don't hold back Boilermaker
Coaches like to throw out the term “hard worker” when talking about their players. Sometimes it’s true, sometimes it just sounds nice.
But when Purdue women’s volleyball head coach Dave Shondell talks about senior Amanda Miller being a hard worker, you know it’s true because she proves it every day.
Miller, a defensive specialist from Trabuco Canyon, Calif., has faced challenge after challenge after challenge, but she has persevered to overcome them all.
When Miller was young, she was slower to develop than her two older brothers. She did not talk until age 3, and her parents Mark and Gladys, who are both teachers, knew something wasn’t right.
In second grade, Miller was diagnosed with dyslexia after testing in the third percentile for auditory processing.
“Both my parents are school teachers and they see a lot of students with learning disabilities, but their parents haven’t done anything about it,” Miller said.
But, knowing their way around the educational system, the Millers took a totally different approach with their daughter.
“My parents told me, ‘You have this learning disability, you’re going to have trouble, but we’re going to have to overcome it,’ ” Miller said. “They didn’t hide anything from me, which I think actually benefitted me.”
Miller worked with special computer programs and went to summer school to learn the tools to help her conquer the disability.
“I knew it was going to take me longer to do homework, and I wasn’t asking my mom why it took me two hours to do this when it takes everyone else a half-hour,” Miller said. “I knew I had to work harder than anyone else, but I wanted to pass my classes and take regular classes like everyone else.”
The extra work paid off and by the time Miller reached high school, she no longer needed special assistance.
At the same time, Miller was excelling in volleyball and collegiate coaches were starting to take notice. She visited Purdue, and believed it was a place she could succeed academically and athletically. The university gives Miller extra time for tests and she has access to a special computer program that reads to her while she takes notes.
“Now, it doesn’t affect me as much,” Miller said. “It’s still there and it will never go away, but I know I have to focus a lot more. I have to stay tuned into class and I can’t drift out and daydream.”
“We probably have not had anyone that has spent the time studying and preparing for her workload academically as she has,” Shondell said. “She’s certainly smart enough to understand what she has to do to be successful. She puts the time in.”
On the court, Miller played sparingly for the Boilermakers as a freshman and sophomore, but still served an integral role in the team’s chemistry.
“She’s contributed in a lot of ways since the day she got here,” Shondell said. “She’s got a vibrant, selfless personality and you dream about having those type of players in your program, whether they’re on the floor a lot or not. She has brought so many positive attributes to our culture that she made a significant difference even when she wasn’t playing.”
Through her hard work, Miller made it as a scholarship student-athlete at a Division I school, but life introduced another staggering obstacle while she was on spring break in 2010.
Miller was visiting her home state of California when she was in a serious car accident, and suffered a severe concussion.
“I felt like I needed to get back to school to do my work,” Miller said. “They did CT scans and X-rayed my whole body. They said that I was fine and that I could fly back to Purdue. They didn’t know I had a huge concussion.”
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After going through physical therapy for her other injuries, Miller returned to the court the following September. She was practicing with her teammates when her head was hit by a ball twice in the same practice. When she went to strength training after practice, her teammates and strength coach said she was acting a little off. Miller went to see the trainer and was diagnosed with another concussion.
The Boilermakers were two matches into the season, so Miller and Shondell discussed applying to the NCAA for a medical redshirt for the 2010 season, which she received.
“I didn’t practice or anything so I could rest my brain as long as I could,” Miller said. “You really don’t know when you are better. I had passed the concussion test after the first one, but I may have come back too early because getting hit with a volleyball usually doesn’t cause a concussion.”
Miller slowly started doing non-impact cardio exercise to stay in shape, and returned to the floor for spring practice in 2011. Still she was getting headaches, and doctors and Shondell were concerned.
“The neurologist said, ‘Would you ever consider not playing volleyball? If you were a football player, you wouldn’t be playing anymore. With soccer, you probably wouldn’t be playing anymore, but volleyball is such a different sport,’ ” Miller said.
“At one point in time, I sat her down and said, ‘Do you really think this is worth it?’ ” Shondell said. “She looked at me like that was the dumbest question in the world.”
They were concerned Miller would be susceptible to more concussions, but she never wanted to quit playing volleyball.
Miller had seen a player at California who had worn a helmet on the court, and asked the doctors and trainers if she could try wearing one so she could continue to play.
“No actual study showing it will prevent a concussion, but there was a comfort level knowing that if I got hit in the head it could maybe lessen my chances of getting one,” Miller said. “I felt a lot more comfortable wearing that.”
Miller wore a mixed martial arts (MMA) helmet for over a year to protect her head despite the fact it made it more difficult to see in certain situations on the court. She returned to the floor in 2011, playing in half of the Boilermakers’ matches and averaging 1.05 digs per set, including a season-high seven digs against Louisville in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
This season, Miller has become a regular on the court for the No. 14 Boilermakers, playing in 18 of 20 sets. In fact, in Purdue’s first tournament of the season, she was voted Most Valuable Player of the Mortar Board Premier.
Shondell applauded Miller’s commitment, effort and attitude as she strives to be her best every day.
“When she was named the MVP of our first tournament -- because she was just brilliant and we really needed her because our other ball control people were not playing very well – I thought it was just an incredible message,” Shondell said.
“Here’s someone who has not only overcome a learning disability and an accident that beat her up and multiple concussions, and she has persevered through that to not only get back on the floor, but play on a high level and be recognized as the Most Valuable Player of that tournament.”
Purdue hosts UAB, Bowling Green and Jacksonville State in the Active Ankle Challenge on Sept. 14-15.
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