2016-03-20 / Sports

Fall down seven times, stand up eight; Area athlete heading to Rio 2016 games

810-452-2632 • mselecky@mihomepaper.com

Aysa Miller and Jenn Armbruster, shown here during their trip to Lapeer earlier this year. 
Photo by Michael Selecky Aysa Miller and Jenn Armbruster, shown here during their trip to Lapeer earlier this year. Photo by Michael Selecky LAPEER – There’s a Chinese proverb that states, “From the hottest fire comes the strongest steel.” If that’s the case it would explain a lot about Lapeer East grad and former Western Michigan University track and field standout Asya Miller, who is getting ready to compete for the United States Paralympics Team in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, September 7-18 in the sport of goalball. This is Miller’s fifth time competing.

“I chose WMU because it was the best college in the state for people with a visual impairment, as far as getting accommodations and things like that,” Miller said. “Because of that, there was a very large community there that played goalball. The people who ran the department of blind rehabilitation would have weekly practices and they hosted a tournament in Kalamazoo for many years, but there have been goalball tournaments in Michigan for 32 years now.”

According to www.paralympic.org, “Goalball was devised in 1946 in an effort to rehabilitate visually impaired veterans who returned from World War II. The object of the game is to roll the ball into the opposite goal while opposing players try to block the ball with their bodies. Bells inside the balls help orient the players, indicating the direction of the on-coming ball. Therefore, while play is in progress, complete silence is required in the venue to allow the players to instantly react to the ball.”

“(Making the national team) isn’t much different than other team sports. You play at regional events and tournaments in hopes of getting noticed by a national coach,” Miller said. “Then you get invited to a training camp, which has up to 12 ladies, and the process gets cut down. You may go to international tournaments to get tested out before you make a Paralympic team.”

Even though the game’s roots go much deeper, goalball didn’t get introduced as a Paralympic event until 1976 in Toronto. Because this sport is only for the visually impaired, athletes must also wear blackout masks while on the playing court.

“It’s fairly unique and a very awesome experience to be able to represent your country and stand on the top of a podium and hear the national anthem,” said

Miller. “Not a lot of people get to do that, just like not a lot of athletes get to do that. Only the best of the best get that experience, and that’s one of the things that makes you want to strive for and do again.”

Now that Miller and teammate and partner Jenn Armbruster, who will be competing at her seventh Paralympics later this year in South America, have had their time in the spotlight the duo is contemplating making this their final international competition as athletes.

While the decision wasn’t an easy one, it comes after winning gold medals in 2008, silver medals in

2004 and finishing sixth in 2012.

“It’s probably that same competitiveness and desire to win that’s always been there. I don’t think that leaves people. I think most people’s bodies give out before they mentally do,” Miller said. “If I was in perfect physical health, I could keep playing, but people get older. That’s why the people who have that competitive edge go to other things, like coaching and officiating, to continue in their sports because they love the competitive world.”

While Miller and Armbruster and their fouryear old son Rider currently live in Oregon, they extended their trip to Michigan for a goalball event in Detroit in February by a couple days to visit family in the Lapeer area. Considering the various health concerns in Brazil presently being debated, that makes this trip that much more meaningful since most athlete’s loved ones won’t be in attendance for the actual games themselves.

“I’m not worried about it yet. There’s still time,” said Miller. “One of the positives of being a Paralympian as opposed to an Olympian is that if there are going to be kinks and stuff, they’re going to get worked out during the Olympics. If that means we all have to get immunized, there’s going to be some type of remedy before we get there. It’ll be resolved or they’ll have something planned before we even go. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been to a country where you can’t drink the water.”

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