AMHERST — To a stranger, Holly Miller’s life looks pretty standard.
She’s a special-education teacher at Amherst High School, where she has worked for 15 years, and she hits the gym or spends time with her boyfriend and daughter when she’s not in her classroom.
But on Sept. 3, Miller, 38, will compete in the World’s Strongest Disabled Man competition at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London. It will be the first time American women have competed in the event.
Miller earned an invitation by placing first May 13 at the America’s Strongest Disabled Athlete competition at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fair in Columbus. The contest was split into four divisions: men’s standing, men’s seating, women’s standing and women’s seating, the division in which Miller competed.
The trial consisted of five exercises that measured each participant’s strength and endurance.
Miller contends she didn’t do much to prepare for the competition, having found out about it only two months beforehand.
She was ready, though.
She began seriously working out three years ago, hitting the weights four to five times a week despite experiencing chronic back pain.
Miller had her first of four back surgeries in 2003, when she was 23.
In December she was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.
“Looking back, I do think it is something I have dealt with my entire life. It’s just that doctors were more submissive back then,” she said. “They’d say, ‘Oh, it’s just growing pains. It’ll go away.’ My issues were never really looked at seriously when I was younger.”
She said today doctors believe her issues are congenital and were exacerbated by wear and tear and arthritis.
She has injections and radio frequency ablation done on the nerves in her spine every six to nine months to relieve the pain, she said.
“If I could estimate the number of procedures that I’ve had on my back over the past 15 years, it would probably be well over 100.”
She also has had a spinal fusion, a nerve decompression and a spinal cord stimulator implantation.
Because of her disability, Miller said, she never viewed herself as someone who could win a strength competition.
“I always did them knowing I would come in last. I knew I couldn’t compete with everyone else; I just couldn’t,” she said. “I did it for fun.”
She said finding out about America’s Strongest Disabled Athlete gave her a boost.
“It allowed me to compete with people who are like me,” she said. “I’m proud to represent women, especially disabled women. Both are underrepresented, and a lot of times people who have a disability think that they can’t do something when it’s totally possible.”
Miller said she eager to watch the other participants compete during her trip to London.
“It’s inspiring and fun to watch. I’m amazed by the strength of the human body and mind — how people push through their disabilities.”
Miller said she is determined to make it to the competition, no matter the cost.
To help fund her trip, she will have a fundraiser at Ziggy’s Pub & Restaurant, 193 Park Ave., Amherst, on July 25. The event will take place upstairs 5 to 8 p.m. Ten percent of every purchase will go toward her trip.
Contact Alexis Dill at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.