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To evolve as a runner, one must overcome challenges and be strong in the face of adversity. As an accomplished marathoner, Dell Miller knew this – and yet he had no idea what that truly meant until January 25, 2015. On that day, adversity came in the form of meningococcal disease.
The rare bacterial infection consumed Dell’s body suddenly and wholly. Doctors pinned his chances of survival at about fifteen percent. After several days in the Intensive Care Unit of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the prognosis was still grim.
Lying in the hospital bed, fighting for his life, Dell realized his marathon training had nothing to do with completing 26.2 miles; it was for this moment. All those times he overcame challenges en route to a marathon finish were preparation for the biggest challenge of all – survival. His training as a runner had transformed him into a fighter.
In an effort to save his life, Dell made the difficult decision to cast aside infection by casting aside his legs. Doctors performed an immediate double below-the-knee amputation. He survived – but was it worth it?
“For me, sports and life go hand-in-hand,” Dell recalls of his post-surgery struggle. To remove his legs was to remove his identity as an athlete. Confined to a wheelchair, Dell longed for the energy and vitality he could only find on the race course. When he was finally released from the hospital more than two months after that fateful day, he felt broken – physically, mentally, and spiritually. To feel whole again, Dell vowed to return to running. The sport had transformed him before, and it would do it again.
But first, he needed to learn to walk.
When outfitted with a pair of prosthetic walking legs, Dell assumed his body would match his brain, which was raring to run again. What he got instead was a long, arduous process filled with trying – and failing – to take just one step.
Months later, one step became three. With more time and work, three steps became ten. It took practice, iteration, and refinement, but the evolution of Dell Miller – the athlete and the man – was taking place.
With a grant from Challenged Athletes Foundation, Dell received a set of prosthetic legs specially designed for running, and he has begun reclaiming his identity as a runner. The process will no doubt be tough and filled with setbacks, but Dell has determined that the next phase of this evolution will end with competing in marathon events the world over. For Dell, the biggest challenges yield the greatest transformation.
“Understanding limitations and how to overcome them is something I deal with on a daily basis,” Dell asserts. “I live on hope, I believe in miracles, and I bet on the odds. I was given a second chance at life, and I refuse to waste it.”