EDMOND — After the 2012 London Paralympic Games ended in September, some of the U.S. team athletes returned to Edmond, where they live and train on the University of Central Oklahoma campus, an official Paralympic training site.
Jeremy Campbell and members of the women's sitting volleyball team came home with medals.
Campbell defended his 2008 title in the men's F44 discus throw, winning his second gold medal in the event and breaking the Paralympic record. He also broke a record at the 2012 UCO Endeavor Games in June.
The sitting volleyball team finished the games with a silver medal after a 3-1 loss to China in the gold medal finals match.
Bill Hamiter, sitting team women's head coach and program director, was impressed with the promotion of the Paralympics in London.
“They really bought into the sport that was there, but they were also engaged in the stories that came out of that as well, from the Paralympics side,” Hamiter said.
Sitting volleyball team member Katie Holloway, 26, said it was refreshing to be viewed as an athlete first and a disabled person second.
Holloway was born with fibular hemimelia, which required amputation below the knee when she was 20 months old.
She is originally from Lake Stevens, Wash., and has lived four years in the UCO housing offered to Paralympic athletes. She is accustomed to being away from home and her family, having been away for school and sports at California State University — Northridge.
“I graduated high school in 2004 and got a scholarship to play basketball in college,” she said. “Then I moved out from Northridge to here right after my undergrad.”
While Holloway was in college the Paralympic team traveled there to train and she was invited to practice with them.
“The coach called me after my season was over and my coaching staff for basketball and their coaching staff both agreed that my priority would be basketball during my basketball season and volleyball during volleyball season,” she said. “The seasons just kind of worked out where I started going to training camps for volleyball after my basketball season got over with.
“I just progressed into playing both my last two years of college and then when I was done with my college basketball career I just moved out here, which was right in time for Beijing in 2008.”
Kari Miller, 35, also played for the sitting volleyball team during the Beijing and London Paralympics.
Miller, who has lived in Edmond since 2006, is a native of Washington, D.C., where she ran track and played basketball while growing up.
She joined the military to pay for college, then decided to make it a career. One night she went out with friends to celebrate a promotion, and her life plan was changed forever.
Their car was hit from behind by a car traveling 80 mph, which caused it to spin out of control and hit a power pole on Miller's side of the vehicle.
“I was in and out and one time I woke up and looked up and the roof was off the car, then I looked and no one else was in the car with me and I asked a guy who was on top of the car what was going on and he said they would have to cut me out of the car because the car was wrapped around a pole,” she said.
“I looked at him and said, ‘So the pole is worth more than me? You can't cut it down?'
“I couldn't breathe for a while and I said, ‘You know, I don't care, if you have to cut my legs off to get me out, I'll totally forgive you, I just need to get out of here.'”
She woke up in the hospital, where her mother nervously asked her if she knew what had happened.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, I lost both legs, but now I can be as tall as I want to be.' And everybody in the room busted out laughing because I always wanted to be tall.
“From that point on I knew we were going to be OK, we're going to get through it,” Miller said.
Miller began playing wheelchair basketball and was asked by the coach at the University of Illinois to play for that school.
She originally tried out for the Paralympic wheelchair basketball team, but a former wheelchair basketball Paralympian, Carlee Hoffman, suggested she try out for the sitting volleyball team. After a couple years of learning the game, she made the team.
Holloway and Miller are unsure if they will stay on the team for the games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Holloway was voted as best spiker in London and was the only disabled athlete of six nominees for Sportswoman of the Year.
Miller was voted best libero (a specialized defensive position in sitting volleyball) and best server. She was also on TV commercials promoting Citibank and the USA Paralympic teams.
“It's nice for me to be able to see that they're able to get some of the recognition that I feel they deserve,” Hamiter said.
Hamiter received recognition in London as well. The coaching staff of Olympic and Paralympic teams do not receive medals, so the Olympic Committee created a program called the Order of Ikkos in which coaches receive medals.
“You're already narrowing down the coaches to Olympic caliber and then you're further narrowing it down to teams with medals and then further narrowing it down to a significant change they made,” Miller said. “So he's one of the top of the top.”
Campbell, 25, came home from London with his third gold medal.
“In 2008 I went for the Pentathlon, which was my main event,” he said. “I competed in that and the discus open and won gold in both and broke the world record in the pentathlon.
“After 2008 they took the pentathlon out for various reasons and the discus being my main strength, I gravitated towards doing that and have trained solely for that and that's what I went to London for.”
Campbell, a native of Perryton, Texas, was born with fibular hemimelia and lost his right leg. He hopes to compete in Rio de Janeiro.
“This year I became the first Paralympic athlete discus thrower to ever throw over 60 meters,” he said. “My world record stands at 63.46 which is about 210 feet.
“I feel really excited that I won and now I feel more focused and determined and have some big goals ahead of me.”