The 24-year-old Orangeville native told himself he was going to be in London for this week’s world lacrosse championships — as a goalie for Team Canada.
“When I was going through treatment (three years ago), I knew this tournament was coming up and it was my motivation to be here. When I found out I made the team, it was a great feeling. That’s what I’d been working for.”
Miller was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in February 2003, during his junior year at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He took a year off to fight the disease (at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto) and then returned to the lacrosse field for his senior Big Red season — without his knee joint and a titanium rod in his leg.
“It’s always a blow when you hear the word cancer — I just sat there numb, not believing what I was hearing,” he said. “But I was lucky to have a great support group with my family and friends. I just had my final appointment on Tuesday. We practised and then I had to go back to Toronto to get a checkup.”
Thin for a lacrosse player, Miller lost a lot of weight from the ordeal and is trying to add to his 155-pound frame.
Goalies generally sweat off a lot of pounds during 80-minute games and practices, so it hasn’t been an easy proposition.
“When you go through chemo, your senses are heightened and there were a lot of foods I just couldn’t eat because of the smell,” he said. “My mom had hand lotion she had put on at the hospital and when she puts it on now, it still turns my stomach — from the memory of it.”
But weight doesn’t make a goalie great in lacrosse and Canada currently boasts two outstanding goalies in Miller, who’s a tournament rookie, and fellow Orangeville native Chris Sanderson, a wily ball-stopper who’s played at the previous two world championships. It’s still up in the air which goalie will see the bulk of the action here.
“Chris is the veteran — I started in the sport as a defensive midfielder and really became a goalie because of him,” Miller said. “When I was growing up in Orangeville, he was playing at Virginia and then at the worlds and I followed his career closely. It’s pretty cool that now we’re on the same team.”
Miller even works for Sanderson’s company, True North Lacrosse, which specializes in camps, clinics and gear. Team Canada defender Brodie Merrill is also part of that Orangeville crew.
“Our defence is an outstanding group and Brodie is the one who can watch his guy and everybody else’s at the same time,” Miller said. “We went to high school and the Salisbury school (in Connecticut). I call him Spider-Man.”
Playing goal in field lacrosse is an eye-opener for people used to seeing the big equipment of box lacrosse or hockey. Miller and Sanderson aren’t wearing a lot of extra padding and get by on good positioning, quick reflexes, and bravery.
“It’s not like box where you’re basically a blocker,” Miller said. “In field, you’re more of a quarterback. To prepare, I watch a lot of film to look for shooters’ tendencies but at the world level, they’re too good to have tendencies.”
Miller, who wears a shin pad over his right leg, says the India rubber ball used in lacrosse doesn’t hurt when it’s hurled at high speed.
That’s hard to believe, but after what he’s been through, a bruise earned in lacrosse would make anyone smile.