Steve Miller had it all – the house, the cars, a boat, and the money. For more than 20 years, he owned a successful landscaping and home repair business in central Kentucky. But his life changed in a second.
On Nov. 16, 2013, Miller was on his way to a University of Kentucky football game, but he’d promised to cut a neighbor’s tree and was in a rush to finish. With no ropes or safety devices, Miller climbed the ladder and cut the large branch. The limb came crashing through the ladder and flipped Miller through the air. He fell 22 feet and landed on his back. He woke up in the hospital, paralyzed from the waist down.
“When I first got injured I cried every day,” he said.
Miller, an Army combat engineer from 1974-77, spent three months healing and rehabilitating at the Jefferson Barracks Spinal Cord Injury Center at the St. Louis VA. It was there he was introduced to VA’s adaptive rehabilitation events.
“The creative arts (festival) got me out of my funk,” he said. “It got me out of my depression.”
A longtime musician, Miller won gold in the original artist and country music categories, and received “Best in Show” honors at the St. Louis VAMC local festival in 2014. “I’ve written songs all my life and I thought I’d never do it again.”
Nearly three months ago, he began training for his first trip to the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.
“I’ve been swimming at the YMCA and working out three days a week.” At the games in Dallas, he participated in track, bowling, air rifle and swimming.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this. These guys could be professional athletes, and they motivated me to come back.”
Miller credits Paralyzed Veterans of America, co-presenter of the Wheelchair Games, with providing him opportunities to get out of the house and helping him regain confidence.
“When you first get hurt, you don’t want to fall (from the wheelchair),” he said. “But those guys showed me — brother, we’ve all been down, and we’re all going to get back up.”
While his recovery hasn’t always been easy, Miller said he’s regained more independence and is looking to give back to other Veterans. He volunteers at the VA Tennessee Valley Healthcare System in Nashville where he works the information desk.
“It’s not a glorious job, but it’s got its rewards,” he said. “We help 100 people a day find out where they’re supposed to go in the hospital.”
He also helps retrieve wheelchairs for Veterans who need them.
“I pull 10-20 chairs a day,” he said, while demonstrating how he guides a wheelchair with one hand and pushes his own chair with the other.
Despite his injury he said his life has more purpose today and he’s dedicated to help others going through similar struggles.
“If I hadn’t broken my back, I wouldn’t have learned any of this. I would’ve never experienced any of this. I would’ve never helped anybody. If I can inspire others, that pays a lot more than money in the bank.”