Autistic Boy Runs His Way to Gold, Despite Disability

By Jillian Pellegrino

In 2014, John Miller won the gold medal for the 800 meter dash in the Special Olympics, and what a journey he has gone through to get it!

Miller has become an Internet sensation due to his running talents, but he isn’t your average high school athlete.

It all began twelve years ago, when Miller was diagnosed with autism. Due to his disability, he was unable to speak or communicate well with others. He started to pull away from friends, teachers, and even family.

Autistic teen running champion, John Miller, jumps hurdles during track competition in Stuart, Florida.  Photo Credit: CNN

Autistic teen running champion, John Miller, jumps hurdles during track competition in Stuart, Florida.
Photo Credit: CNN

“There were very few people who knew how to handle a disability as severe as John’s. Even professionals were unable to reach out to him,” mother Rachel Miller said.

As a concerned mother, Rachel met with therapist Jeff Hancock to hire him as John’s companion. Their relationship developed when Hancock introduced John to the Special Olympics.

John Miller started to build an interest in track when he watched the Special Olympics. Hancock would show Miller everything from where to sit to how the races worked.After going to meets and observing for three years, Miller began to compete in the 50-meter sprint.

The first thing Rachel and Hancock noticed about Miller was that he smiled whenever he was running. Sometimes, he would be so happy that he would even yell joyfully down the track. “A person with a disability can feel hopeless and isolated. John’s head will be down a lot when he is trying to have social interactions. But when he is running, his form is perfect,” Miller’s mother said.

Running was Miller’s way of escaping from his disability. It was his way of connecting with the rest of the world.

Miller started his interest by doing smaller races because Rachel and Hancock just wanted him to be able to finish. Although Miller never ran to compete, he started to become stronger and faster as he grew older.

He competed in races starting at the age of 12, and by 16, Miller was competing in the 110-meter hurdles and the 800-meter run.

Rachel would get nervous at times, but she would always realize she had nothing to worry about once the race started. “I just wanted to see the best performance. It seemed much more significant than whether he would ever speak or respond to me,” Rachel Miller said.

John Miller is still competing in the Special Olympics today. With all of the love and support he has gotten from friends and family over the years, he is able to express his love for track.

Miller has faced many difficulties; however, he has never let his autism get in the way of his competing. Because of this, he has achieved the unthinkable.

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