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Gators javelin thrower Fawn Miller is the national No. 1 seed heading into the NCAA Championships today.

Wednesday June 11, 2014#LovingLife: Gators Javelin Thrower Fawn Miller Comes Back from Gruesome Injury

Gators javelin thrower Fawn Miller is the national No. 1 seed heading into the NCAA Championships today.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- On the night of March 26, exactly 11 weeks ago today, Fawn Miller sent out a brief tweet that only those closest to her would understand.

She didn't even need Twitter's 140-character limit.

2 years since my accident, 2 days until I open for outdoors!! #lovinglife

Miller has plenty of reasons to be thankful, but the one that prompted her tweet remains the most frightening moment of her life.

In the spring of 2012, a few days after Miller finished second in the javelin at the first meet of the season, she hopped on her motorcycle to head home from class. She made it as far as SW 34th Street near UF's campus.

Fawn Miller

Suddenly, a car came out of a side road and slammed into Miller. A seasoned motorcyclist whose parents and siblings back home in Stoneboro, Pa., all ride motorcycles, Miller crashed to the pavement.

She quickly realized the severity of the accident.

"It was a mess,'' Miller said.

That is Miller's description of her right foot, so important to her powerful release in the javelin.

The skin was hanging off her mangled foot and the big toe was barely attached.

The worst kind of thoughts began to pop into Miller's mind.

"I've never broken a bone or anything, and then that happened,'' she said.

Miller was rushed to the hospital, where she had surgery to repair the damage and save her toe.

Gators assistant coach Steve Lemke, who works with Florida's field athletes, questioned if he would ever see the promising young javelin thrower unleash her powerful right arm again, the arm that had made her a state champion in high school and a softball catcher few dared to steal on.

"We didn't think she would be able to walk normally again, let alone compete,'' Lemke said. "We thought she would be done. We had some big barriers."

The first couple of months after surgery were difficult for Miller. She went home and spent the summer on crutches and in a walking boot, far removed from her teammates training for the NCAA Championships. There was talk of more surgery, but Miller began to make progress in rehab.

When she returned to UF in the fall, she continued her physical rehab in hopes of returning for the 2013 season.

"I couldn't really run that much because it was still healing,'' Miller said. "Let's just see how it feels and what you can do. It was difficult."

Miller made it back in time for the season and earned All-American honors, finishing 12th at last year's NCAA Championships.

Still, she needed to make changes if she was going to reach her full potential.

Her right big toe, which she almost lost in the accident, was now little more than a hangout partner. The accident damaged the nerves so severely that Miller lost function of the appendage.

"It just kind of flops there,'' she said.

While Miller proved she could still compete at a high level a year ago, she and Lemke pushed for more. Each day offered a new test.

As she prepared for her junior season, Miller altered the final steps of her release. Instead of slowing down as she prepares to launch the javelin through the sky, she tries to finish strong like a thoroughbred charging for the finish line.

"She probably throws harder than anyone,'' Lemke said. "She has got a tremendous arm, a cannon for an arm. If she slows down, she puts a lot of pressure on the bad foot. She has to go fast and get past that bad foot, and that makes her a better javelin thrower.

"That was like when the light bulb went on. If she hadn't had the accident, we probably would never have gotten there."

The new technique has worked. Miller enters tonight's javelin finals at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., as the national No. 1 seed. At the East Region meet in Jacksonville two weeks ago, Miller recorded a personal-best throw of 190 feet, 1 inch, the best mark in the country this season.

The throw was the second-longest heave in school history behind Evelien Dekkers, the 2010 national champion (193-6), and ninth-longest distance in NCAA history.

A two-time SEC champion, no one is questioning if Miller can return to form these days. She is better than ever.

"The foot has been better so we can push it more,'' Lemke said. "The talent has always been there."

Miller credits her new approach and teammate Marija Vucenovic with helping her eclipse past results. Vucenovic finished second at the regional meet and pushes Miller daily at practice.

Miller has a national title on her mind in Oregon and a perhaps future berth in the Olympics.

Once the Gators conclude their trip to the NCAA Finals, Miller will turn her focus to training for the USA Outdoor National Track and Field Championships June 25-29 in Sacramento, Calif.

"This year is more like the comeback year,'' she said. "I changed a lot of things in my technique, and it's working. Coming back after [the accident], I could barely walk on my foot. It was so difficult.

"This year I am so much stronger than I have ever been, so it's actually been a blessing."

There was no way to know that two years ago as she lay on the pavement in pain, but after what Miller has been through, she is #lovinglife indeed.

 

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