COANG Guardsman finds inspiration out of hardship

  • Published
  • By Capt. Kinder Blacke
  • 140th Wing Public Affairs
Eric Miller is a captain in the Colorado National Guard. He is a humble member of the 140th Medical Group's CERFP Team; however he is also a hero.

Some may remember the day he and six other military members came to the rescue when a car sped out of control and crashed back in March 2011. Captain Miller was heading to his monthly military training that morning at Buckley Air Force Base and coincidentally was there and willing to help save the two passengers from the burning vehicle (Read more here).

While he and the other military members were well-recognized for their heroic actions that day, fewer people know the real strength and heroism of Capt. Eric Miller.

In June 2000, one of Miller's four children, Garrett, was diagnosed with a medulloblastoma malignant brain tumor. He was five years old at the time and underwent brain surgery the very next day, which left him profoundly visually impaired.

The week prior to Garrett's diagnosis and surgery, Miller had competed in the Cheyenne Mountain Triathlon. The following year, the triathlon was to be held on the one-year anniversary of Garrett's surgery, and Miller decided that completing the triathlon with Garrett would be "the perfect way to tell cancer it picked the wrong family."

Miller pulled Garrett in a raft while swimming, rode a tandem bicycle with him, and then pushed him in a cart for the final running portion of the race.

Since then, they have made it an annual tradition and the father-son team has completed several triathlons around the U.S., from shorter sprint distances to the half-ironman distance. Now Garret doesn't have to be pulled or pushed the whole way; he participates on his own with his dad as his guide.

"Triathlon has been the perfect metaphor for our journey through cancer," Miller says.

"During longer distance triathlons there are always moments where the race is no longer physical and it becomes a mental struggle ... a moment where the mind must tell the body what to do and conquer the body's natural inclination to stop," he explained. "It's at this time a person finds out there is more than a physical aspect to our existence. Garrett's battle with cancer was no different."

Unfortunately, not everyone's battle with cancer is victorious, Miller says, "but there is a beauty in someone who fights with dignity, win or lose."

Miller has spent a lot of time talking with Garrett and his other children about suffering and struggling with dignity. He emphasizes holding their heads up high and being able to win or lose graciously, knowing they have fought valiantly in whatever race or struggle is at hand.

"Garrett and I spend a great deal of time talking about life's great lessons during our training and races. And yes, he even teaches me some lessons," Miller said.

Miller says that Garrett has never complained about his loss of vision or his cancer. "Garrett's tenacity is likely his greatest attribute," he said, "and he really is a riot too!"

To Garret, his dad is not only there to physically guide him through the triathlon course, "he is a friend, a mentor and a coach," he says.

Despite being visually impaired, Garrett has celebrated great accomplishments already at his young age. He earned his Boy Scouts of America Eagle Scout award, he has been sponsored by PPD, the world's largest private clinical trials company, and he is consistently shaving time off of his half ironman distance triathlon.

Yet when asked what his biggest challenge is, he responded with a laugh, "my biggest challenge is geometry right now!"

After graduating from the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind in Colorado Springs, Garrett aims to go to college and study Recreational Management and work for the Wounded Warrior Project since he can't serve in the military due to his visual impairment.

Garrett is also training to do a full ironman distance triathlon. He has done portions of the original Ironman race with his dad in Oahu, but one day he hopes to complete a whole race as well.

"My dad has inspired me to push harder physically and academically, except in geometry where he didn't do very well in high school either," he added.

Despite their lack of aptitude for geometry, the duo never fails to impress. In 2001, they started the Rush-Miller Foundation. RMF donates tandem bicycles to blind and low vision children in the U.S. and abroad.

"We are currently on a campaign to donate 2 tandem bicycles to every school for the blind in the U.S." said Miller. "In the last year, our foundation has helped put over 3,000 blind and low vision children on bicycles, many for their first time."

Now, Miller and Garrett continue to raise the rest of the $40,000 needed to get bicycles in all of the state schools for the blind.

While Miller is proud of this accomplishment, he is most proud of his four children. "My oldest is a member of the COANG and the next three are all very patriotic," he said. "I expect they will all do great things with their lives."

Based on Miller's track record, it wouldn't be a surprise.