One final Paralympic Games?
Preparing for her sixth Paralympic Games, Asya Miller just wants to enjoy her experience as part of the USA goalball team, and not think about possible retirement.
She had planned to retire after the Tokyo games in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to the postponement of the Paralympic Games — as well as the Olympics. This year, after the Olympics in Tokyo, the Paralympic Games are set to take place and, yes, it could be Miller's last hurrah as one of the country's top goalball players — or not.
"In October there's a tournament in Brazil and it'll be a chance to visit in-laws," Miller said. "(My wife, Simony Batista's) family lives like 10 minutes from the Paralympic training center in Brazil, where they hold tournaments."
So, it's tempting to still play goalball and be a member of Team USA.
For now, Miller, 41, and her teammates, which include Beaverton's Eliana Mason, look to recapture gold in goalball. (Another Portlander, Jen Armbruster, is a former Paralympian in goalball). She leaves Aug. 17 for Tokyo.
"We're a fairly competitive team. Our primary goal is to win (gold)," Miller said. "That doesn't mean we won't enjoy what we can in Tokyo. We'll go there, practice, compete and have some down days (for fun). You fly to the other side of the world you might as well enjoy some of the culture while you're there."
Goalball teams are made up of vision-impaired, legally blind athletes. In Miller's case, she has dealt with Stargardt's disease since high school; it's a progressive macular degeneration of the eyes. She has 20/200 sight with contacts. But in goalball competition, athletes wear blindfolds to level the playing field anyway.
The definition of goalball from the International Paralympic Committee: Teams are made up of six players, with three members playing at any one time. … The object of the game is to throw a ball past opponents and into their net to score points. Players stay on their hands and knees to defend their net and score against opponents. … A goalball court measures 18 meters long and 9 meters wide. It has goals at each end covering the entire backline. String is taped to the markings on the court to allow players to feel the lines and orient themselves.
"It's very intense and full contact (with the body and floor)," Miller said. "Sighted athletes who have played football, soccer and rugby would really enjoy it; athletes who prefer tennis and golf won't enjoy it much."
Originally from Michigan, Miller has lived in Portland for about 10 years (and knows Mason well).
She participated in the 2000 Sydney games in track and field (winning bronze), and the past four Paralympics — 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London, 2016 Rio — in goalball. Her USA team won silver in Athens, gold in Beijing and bronze in Rio. She's also competed in powerlifting in world championships.
"The competition now I believe is its best or toughest it's ever been," Miller said. "There are not one or two clear frontrunners for this. There are a lot of good quality teams out there that we'll have to beat. Russia and Turkey are really tough, and you got China and Brazil.
Miller and Lisa Czechowski are the veterans on the USA team.
"We're also like the team moms. We're the only ones with kids," said Miller, who has a son, Ryder. "Sometimes those roles overlap, and we relate well. It's good for us, and we handle it well. Having the experience lets us deal with situations differently with that experience and more composure and resources. There's not a lot you can throw at us that we haven't done."
Miller does talk about retirement.
"The older you get, mentally and emotionally you can still keep up, but physically … I've already had one shoulder surgery and other injuries," she said. "And, now I've had to work out for another year."
So she'll try to enjoy the experience at Paralympics, despite it being expectedly different because of COVID-19.
"At the moment, we're not sure exactly, if anything, we would be able to do outside of competition and village," Miller said. "I don't know if things will change. Our whole team is fully vaccinated. We don't know what other sports are in our venue.
"We're friends with a lot of girls, including the sitting volleyball team and track and field athletes. I don't know if we'll be allowed to go to their venue because it's not our venue."
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