One year ago, he was traveling between classes in a wheelchair.
Just prior to a fateful day in April 2011, he was running personal best times good enough for conference-qualifying standards and dreaming of someday going pro. But for junior 100- and 200-meter sprinter Antwaine Miller, his season, his career and his life all changed in a snap — literally.
Running at full speed halfway through the 100-meter dash at Cal Poly’s home track and field invitational, Miller felt a torturous pop in his left leg. The pain in his femur caused the sprinter to lose his balance mid-stride and dive to the ground where he landed directly on his right shoulder.
In the aftermath of the fall, lying on the track and unknown to Miller, his left leg, continuing with his momentum, bent back upon itself, his femur snapped in two. His season was finished.
“It was the lowest I’ve been ever,” Miller said of the days immediately following the injury. “It was one of the most depressing times for me. I define myself as a runner, and not being able to run and not being able to walk was huge.”
Miller didn’t know the extent of the injury to his femur directly following the tumble. The Cal Poly athletic training staff told Miller he needed to be transported to an emergency room immediately due to a dislocated shoulder — suffered during his plunge into the track’s synthetic rubber.
Sophomore sprinter Jamison Jordan was in the lane next to Miller’s when he went down.
“I heard a pop (coming from the lane next to mine),” Jordan said. “I had a feeling that he had fallen like he had tripped. I thought he could have just hurt his hamstring or it was just another common track injury, but I didn’t know how bad it was.”
Doctors later told Miller the news of his femur, an injury they said was precipitated by the presence of a stress fracture in his femur sustained at an earlier date.
“I just felt like asking ‘Why is this happening to me of all people? Why am I always the one to get hurt? Why do I have to go through something like this?’” he said.
The injury not only affected Miller’s psyche, but his teammates’ as well, especially his running partner Jordan.
“He was having a great year, and to see something so catastrophic happen was devastating for everyone on the team,” Jordan said.
But Miller didn’t dwell on his misfortune for long. His path to recovery started a month after his accident. With dedication and help from coaches, athletic trainers and family he made an astonishing improvement during the fall.
Miller used a strict training regimen beginning with low-impact strength exercises for his legs such as aquatic therapy and mimicked simple flexural motions to regain movement in his leg. He gradually began walking and was back on the track by the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, jogging his way to top form.
Despite his rapid improvement off the track, on it Miller isn’t where he once was — he said he’s only 90 percent recovered from last April’s injury. For Miller, a self-proclaimed student of the sport, the experience has taught him one thing: not to take his love of track for granted.
“I became more of an individual,” Miller said. “Before I was scared of the shame of losing, but now I can only do as best as I can. As long as I put in 100 percent everyday, then that’s what I can expect out of it.”
Track and field head coach Mark Conover attests to Miller’s admiration of the sport and says that the sprinter’s comeback from injury exemplifies the innate competitiveness he brings to the track.
“When you’re out for a while it really tests your ability to have patience, and I think he’s learned a lot about how important sport is in his life,” Conover said. “You grow from that.”
Miller recently competed in the 100-meter dash at the Mt. Sac Relays in Walnut, Calif., and earned a finishing time of 11.05 seconds, well off his personal best of 10.64 seconds run the month before his injury.
While his times may not clock in where he wants them yet, Miller believes with patience and training he’ll regain the form necessary to help the Mustangs vie for a Big West Championship. In time, he hopes to turn pro and bring pride to his mother and the rest of his family, similar to what his half brother — NFL retiree Warrick Dunn — did when he was drafted to play professional football.
As for now, Miller said he is just thankful he was able to turn in his wheelchair for one of his most beloved items of clothing: track spikes.