U.S. Sprint Canoe/Kayak National Team Trials
When: Racing begins at 8 a.m. Friday, 9 a.m. Saturday
Where: Lake Lanier Olympic Park, 3105 Clarks Bridge Road, Gainesville
How much: Free
When Gainesville native Nikiha Miller slipped a prosthesis on his right leg and prepared to go through his regular walking exercises, he felt spurred on by a motto that he uses to fuel his drive for kayaking.
“Change is inevitable, growth is optional,” said Miller, during his recent adjustment fitting at the Hanger Clinic Wednesday in Gainesville.
The 37-year-old above-knee amputee will be competing in the US Canoe/Kayak Sprint National Team Trials on Saturday at Lake Lanier Olympic Park in Gainesville for the chance to represent Team USA in the World Championships in Germany.
Miller needs to finish in the top two in his event, the 200-meter kayak race, to earn a spot on Team USA.
In 2004, Miller was riding his motorcycle when he was struck by a car that ran a stop sign, resulting in a crushed hip, ruptured aorta, and the loss of his right leg above the knee.
“There are a couple of down days,” Miller said. “But then you realize that makes for a long day. You can either be upset about things that you can’t do anything about or you can figure out ways to make do with what you have.”
An active participant in CrossFit and a U.S. Marine before the accident, Miller’s first foray back into action was training in the military, as he was in charge of running the ranges for recruits.
It wasn’t until seven years after the accident that Miller started experimenting with kayaking.
“A friend of mine brought it up as an idea,” Miller said. “It was slow. The adrenaline junkie in me wanted to go faster.”
That desire to go faster resulted in opportunities to compete in kayaking at the national and international level as Miller’s times kept getting better and better.
Miller is currently four seconds off the 200-meter kayak world record time of 37 seconds. He has placed first at the 2013 Endeavor Games, 2013 and 2014 Lake Placid International Competition and the 2015 Lake Lanier Summer Regatta. Miller has also represented Team USA in the 2013, 2014 and 2015 World Championships.
This is an exciting year for paracanoe kayaking as the 2016 Paralympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro will be the first time paracanoe kayaking will be offered as a sport, affording Miller the opportunity to compete at the Paralympic level.
Despite all his accolades, Miller isn’t too optimistic about his chances to make it to Rio.
“This year, I started too late training full time,” Miller said. “Generally, an Olympic, World Championship level athlete takes about 10 years of full time training.”
Miller started training in December and says 2020 is a more realistic goal. He will likely need a top 10 finish at the World Championships to qualify to for the Paralympics.