Amanda Miller has been proving people wrong since she was a toddler. Back in 2008, Volleyball magazine featured a story on the Purdue volleyball player’s lifelong struggle with learning disabilities and the perseverance that eventually led to her collegiate triumph. Once at Purdue, Amanda faced an entirely new set of challenges including a near-fatal car accident, and a slew of concussions that threatened to keep her from playing the game she loves. No stranger to overcoming adversity, Amanda put her head down and focused on the task at hand – getting back on the volleyball court.
Mark and Gladys Miller were told that their daughter had little chance of graduating high school. Because Amanda’s parents are both teachers, they recognized early on that something was awry with her speech. Familiar with the devastating effects of unaddressed learning disabilities in the classroom, they quickly committed to facing the issue head on.
The Millers chose to have her tested and in the second grade, Amanda was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). Children with APD have great difficulty processing what they hear, leading to hardship in reading and comprehension.
“I respect my parents so much for addressing it with immediacy. I wouldn’t be where I am today if they hadn’t,” Amanda said. “A lot of parents ignore the fact that their child has a learning disability because they want to believe that their kid is perfect. My parents said, ‘This is what you have and we’re going to deal with it.’”
In addition to her parents, Amanda gives endless credit to her special education teacher, Vicki Londy, who she says devoted hours to helping her along the way. Instead of believing the early predictions that she would not make it through high school, Amanda resolutely pushed ahead and spent up to five hours a night on assignments that would take other students a mere 30 minutes. Before long, she enrolled in prep courses with a determined goal to go to college.
“Lots of kids with APD don’t graduate high school because they unfortunately get into drugs and other serious trouble as a result of not being able to communicate,” Mark Miller said. “Amanda worked so hard to overcome her disabilities and to go to a university like Purdue. I’m an incredibly proud dad.”
While she struggled in the classroom, Amanda had always been a natural on the court.
Though she was never on the “1’s” team while playing club, she reached a turning point when she tried out for the USA High Performance team in her native Orange County, Calif. Amanda made the team and went on to win several medals on their tour throughout Europe. After gaining notoriety through the High Performance team, Amanda was soon recruited by several different Division I schools. In the end she decided on Purdue, where she felt a strong connection with the players and head coach Dave Shondell. “As soon as I met them, I was sold,” she said.
New to the team, Amanda saw very little playing time during her freshman (2008) and sophomore (2009) year seasons. Despite playing less than she would have liked, she refused to be discouraged, and worked tirelessly at securing a spot on the floor.
In the spring of 2010, Miller started to feel a new momentum during her workouts.
“I was playing really well and I felt like I was really on the verge of proving myself as a starter,” she said.
But then the unthinkable happened. While home for spring break in California, Amanda was involved in a serious car accident. Mark Miller received a call that the car Amanda was riding in had flipped and rolled down a mountainside.
“My wife took the call and she lost it on the phone,” he said. “By the time we got there, Amanda had already been taken to the hospital. But we saw the car, and her blood was all over the seats, it was horrifying.”
Though she did not sustain any major internal injuries, Amanda’s head was cracked open and she suffered a concussion. She had to have over 100 stitches in her arm, there was glass in her eyes, and her hip was also very badly injured.
But ever the lion-hearted personality, Amanda insisted on returning back to school as soon as possible.
“I had a full course load and I was taking anatomy and physiology. It’s a very difficult class and I really didn’t want to have to retake it,” she said. “The doctors wanted me to take the semester off, but I was set on finishing it out.”
Months later, in August of 2010, Amanda was finally cleared to return to her volleyball workouts.
“Recovery was a very long process. My trainers were very concerned about my head,” she said. “I was so frustrated, but I also had to stay positive in order to get better.”
As soon as she came back, her teammates rallied around her.
“These girls, they’re like my sisters. They lifted me up and supported me.”
However, after just a month back at practice, Amanda suffered another serious setback. Hit with a hard-driven ball, she was suddenly back at square one.
“After I got hit, we were in the weight room, and I just wasn’t feeling right. My teammate told my coach that she thought something was wrong. I saw the doctor and they diagnosed me with another concussion,” Amanda said.
She decided to take a medical redshirt and missed the remainder of the 2010 season.
Returning for her fourth season as a redshirt junior, Amanda was back with a vengeance, as well as a new head-protecting accessory.
“Our neurologist thought I should stop playing. He said if I were a football player my career would have been over,” she said. “He got me the helmet and I started playing with it. It was embarrassing at first, but all I cared about was being able to play again.”
As the Boilermakers made a late season run in 2011, Amanda soon found her stride and earned the consistent playing time she had battled so hard for.
“When I started playing again, and we were winning, it was a great feeling just to be out there with the team, helping to reach our goal,” she said.
Amanda is currently preparing for her senior season and appreciating every moment along the way. She is committed to getting the most out of her final year.
“At first I was frustrated about the red-shirt because I was on time to graduate, which meant a lot to me,” she said, referring to her academic struggles. “But now I look at this as a positive. I mean, who knows how much I will even get to play after college? I’m just excited that I get to play another season of volleyball. I look at it as an opportunity to play another year.”
Throughout it all, Amanda has certainly acquired some valuable perspective.
“Life is a rollercoaster, bad things happen,” she said. “It’s going to be up and down, and when you’re at a down point, it’s important to remember that it always gets better.”
Originally published in June 2012