Swimmer's Abilities Making The Difference

February 21, 2003
By ODU Athletics
ODU Sports

Feb. 21, 2003

Some might call junior Jessica Miller a heroin straight from the pages of a comic book. Her story is not too different from Matthew Murdock's in the soon to be released film "Daredevil."

Murdock, who is played by Ben Affleck, loses his sight in a freak accident, but secretly enhances his remaining senses, giving him a superhuman "radar" sense. He is known as "Man Without Fear" and uses his super powers to fight crime.

Miller, who is 72 percent hearing impaired, has superpowers as well. Not only did her other senses heighten to compensate for her hearing loss, but she has learned to read lips so well that you would be surprise to discover that she can barely hear. Her concentration is so sharp that nothing can distract her from her focus. But unlike Daredevil, who uses his powers to protect the evil street of New York, she uses hers in another way; in the pool.

As with any Marvel character, Daredevil and Spiderman for example, Miller possesses an attribute that sets her apart from the rest; an attribute that causes those around her to look at her with confidence and belief. For many characters it's their uncanny stance for justice, but for Miller it's something different.

"Jessica is definitely a leader," said head coach Carol Withus. "She's a great intermediary between the coaches and team. She knows what the coaches mean and demonstrates it to the team through example."

"With her hearing impairment," she continued, "it helps her be an even better team player. Jessica's even more willing to help other people who aren't as gifted as her."

Now that Miller has been swimming competitively since the age of four, her impairment has presented little problems during her college career. However, that wasn't always the case.

"When I was young it was a big problem," Miller said. "I had to learn how to do the basics. I had to learn how to work while everyone was around me in the water and how to do a start. Now it doesn't affect me as much."

Miller experienced the hardest time during her high school years. While attending Lake Braddock High School in Fairfax, Miller swam for Northern Virginia national swimming powerhouse Curl-Burke. During the national competition, the officials running the event would specifically point her out.

"They didn't want me to be like everyone else," she said. "They wanted me to do the hearing impaired start and they want to claim me as disabled."

"Every time I stepped up to swim," she continued, "they had to announced that I had a hearing impairment. But I'm just like everyone else."

Now the biggest challenges Miller faces in college is trying to understanding the PA announcer and hearing the start beep to dive in the water. Because light travels faster than sound, she compensates by focusing in on the starting light that flashes rather than the beep.

Miller may be like everyone else outside the pool, but in the water she's a step above her competition.

In high school, Miller captured a national top 16 ranking while swimming for Curl-Burke. Now, at Old Dominion, she is showing no signs of slowing down.

As a freshman, Miller held the top times in the 100-yard breaststroke (1:06.47) and 200-yard breastroke (2:21.71) and was also a conference finalist in those events. This season, Miller is heading into the Colonial Athletic Association tournament with full momentum.

Miller is coming off of a strong season with wins in the 100-yard backstroke (1:06.77) and 200-yard backstroke (2:25.85) over Davidson, William and Mary, and UNC-Wilmington at the ODU Scholarship Meet. She also captured her first victory in the 500-yard freestyle with a time of 5:12.05.

Even though Miller was a big recruit for Old Dominion coming out of high school, the coaches were unaware of her disability during her recruitment trip to the campus.

"I didn't know for a while that she was hearing impaired," said Withus. "That is not something she felt that you needed to know. She wanted be even with everybody else." When the team found out they were still accepting.

"It's weird, my teammates were great about it," she said. "But everybody thought that I knew sign language, but I know very little sign. I just know the basics, like the alphabet," she continued. "But I wasn't raised to be handicapped, I was raised to hear."

Like success to failure, disability can best be compared to ability. We learn through life's failures and turn those misfortunes into magnitudes of success. Miller, on the other hand, has unlocked the secrets of her hearing impairment and found an array of attributes, from leadership to uncanny determination, which may have remained undiscovered, if not for her impairment.

Like Daredevil, Spiderman, and the rest of the comic book heroes, Miller has found a way to make a difference with her difference.

"She tries not to use it as a disability," said Withus. "Jessica handles it so well that she really doesn't have a disadvantage. She handles her disability great."