Special Olympics Superstardom
Photgraphy by Jessica Frey Photography
Most athletes typically have a niche.
Some are born to dunk basketballs.
Some run in touchdowns.
Some cross the finish lines in marathons or in 5Ks.
And some set world records in swimming.
Special Olympics athlete Alex Miller, 26, has several niches.
Over the past 20 years, he’s competed in everything through the Special Olympics, from bowling, to aquatics, soccer, basketball, figure skating, golf, tennis, and most recently, powerlifting.
In fact, this past January Miller set a new personal record in his deadlift with 175 pounds, and prior to that, he competed at the 2013 Special Olympics World Games in South Korea in level 2 men’s figure skating—defying all odds that he, a “kid born with special needs,” would go on to become an athlete.
“Alex has a dual diagnosis of autism/Down syndrome,” his mother, Marcia Miller, said. “He grew up receiving special services in school from kindergarten through 12th grade, but that’s never really stopped him from participating in anything.”
Miller may be pre-emptively classified as “challenged” by some standard of medical jargon, but his successes and victories in his athletic career prove he is anything but that.
“The Special Olympics present opportunities for Alex to improve himself. When Alex successfully meets a physical, mental or social challenge, I observe positive attitudes in his demeanor,” said his mother.
This was most evident at the recent Winter Special Olympics.
“Alex was all smiles after his deadlift,” Marcia Miller said. “I saw him from the stands at Round Rock High School where the 2016 Winter Games for powerlifting were held. After completing his three rotations and lifts successfully and achieving a personal best in the final lift, his hands went up high in celebration. He 'woohoo-ed', looked for affirmation from his spotter and then found his coach, Gerry Beauchesne,” she said.
In addition to physical accomplishments, Marcia Miller said the Special Olympics has also impacted her son’s social life, as well as his personal development.
“Socially, I have watched Alex grow too,” she said. “He is able to appreciate and notice people around him more now. That happens because Alex has become more comfortable with who he is and what his abilities can be from successful participation in sports. Competitions have also given Alex travel skills. He is comfortable flying, driving or taking a bus to a competition. He has an eclectic food palate and is not averse to trying a new or culturally different food. His experience in South Korea had him eating soup for breakfast and bites of kimchi for lunch,” Miller said.
So what does a typical day in the life of a Special Olympics athlete look like?
Miller is up by 7:30 a.m. most mornings to shower, eat breakfast, and get his day started. He works at Lifetime Fitness two days per week—helping oversee the weight room floor and assist members with training and facility questions.
Tuesdays and Thursdays are his structured weight lifting days and by 5:45 p.m., he’s back home, finishing up homework for an Informal Class offered at the University of Texas and grabbing some dinner before heading back out to campus, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. for his class.
Down time follows suit—accompanied by plenty of music, reading and of course, rest.
On Saturdays, Miller trains with his power lifting team under the direction of Coach Beauchesne.
Saturday practices last about an hour to an hour and a half and consist of the team warm up, followed by stretching exercises. The team then goes through bench press rotations, free weights with dumb bell exercises, and deadlifting. They wrap up with a cool down session that includes stretching and finally, the team cheer.
Miller hopes to keep healthy and continue to train and compete in multiple Special Olympics sports. He plans to golf, play tennis, ice skate and powerlift for many years into the future.
“Sports participation for Alex means exercising for lifelong wellness and cheering his fellow Special Olympic athletes. Special Olympic athletes want to win but their Athlete Oath says it best: Let me win. But if I cannot win let me be brave in the attempt,” Miller said.
And, above all, “Competition has taught him that a huge smile is understood in any language,” she said.