Team River Runner Virginia Beach’s Nik Miller leading the field at a recent race in Lake Placid, N.Y. Courtesy photo.

Foreword & questions by John Streit. Answers by Nik Miller.

The last time we featured Nik Miller on this website in Feb. 2012, it had been less than a year since he had first taken to the water in one of our rental kayaks. Led to Surf & Adventure Co. by our great friend/tour guide trainer/expert waterman Chuck Conley, the former Marine was searching for a new challenge to conquer after a car accident left him amputated above the right knee.

Nik immediately felt a deeper connection with being on the water, and his love affair with paddling began. Since then, Nik, along with Chuck, has gone on to form the Virginia Beach chapter of Team River Runner, a non-profit organization that uses kayaking as a mechanism to help wounded warriors heal. All the while, Nik progressed rapidly through the competitve ranks of adaptive paddling.

Now, Nik is set to travel to Duisburg, Germany to race for a world championship in the 200-meter sprint for the United States Paralympic Canoe/Kayak Team.

This rapid ascent to the top of America’s adaptive paddling field caught our attention when Chuck sent us an email on Nik’s behalf to help raise funds for his travels via the website RallyMe.com. Though he is a member of the Paralympic team, much of the travel and training costs are coming out of Nik’s pockets. To contribute to Nik’s inspirational cause and to learn more about his story, follow this link to his RallyMe site.

We recently caught up with Nik to get the low-down on his competitive success and upcoming trip across the pond to represent our country.


“I do not see myself as having a disability; I just have a unique way of going about life… Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” – Nik Miller

S&A: The last time we worked together on a web article, you had only competed in two races. Now you are competing at the highest level for adaptive paddling. What sparked your intense competitive fire?

Nik: The personnel around me, “my support network,” are always positive, encouraging, and often mention that I have become a fast paddler at a very quick pace. That fueled my internal drive and motivation to perform well and “show the love” back to those who believe in me.

S&A: What’s it like rising to the top of the competitive field in a relatively short period of time?

Nik: I have been very fortunate to have good coaching on and off the water. My mentor Chuck Conley humbly reminds me with his speed and water skills that I still have a lot to learn and to always stay hungry. Although I have made the top of the U.S. field, I still have a long ways to go for a world record and the American flag to be raised on the podium.

S&A: What did you have to go through to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic Team?

Nik: First I was assessed and categorized physically according to International Canoe Federation regulations. I am classified Leg, Trunk, and, Arms (LTA) which is the most able-bodied category. After that it came down to one race, the 200-meter: 50 seconds of pure technique and determination to have the fastest time and make the required time standards. No mistakes, no do-overs, no second chances.


S&A: Describe the challenges that you have had to endure since committing yourself to competitive paddling.

Nik: There are many challenges; physically, mentally, and financially. Racing is my lifestyle; everything I do is focused on winning. I have spent countless hours and hundreds of miles paddling, driving or flying to compete in races, and eat a specific diet tailored to optimum performance. Personal leave days traveling to train with Kathleen McNamee and Pam Boteler at the Washington Canoe Club, and Deb Smith in Forida. It takes an incredible amount of effort for each quarter of a second an athlete wants to better their race times in the 200-meter sprint.

S&A: How has paddling with other Paralympic athletes affected your outlook, both towards the sport and living with a disability?

Nik: Everyone has a story; everyone has overcome so many odds to be at the top level representing the United States. I do not see myself as having a disability; I just have a unique way of going about life. I feel extremely fortunate that I am capable to help other competitors pack boats, carry gear, and launch from the docks. Being able to perform well and give back to those who support me helps make the physical disability disappear in the shadow of my racing boat, haha!

S&A: If you could only give someone who has recently become disabled one piece of advice, what would it be?

Nik: Change is inevitable, growth is optional.

S&A: Anything else you’d like to share?

Nik: The blood, sweat, tears, struggles, trials, and tribulations do not matter or last long when a person has fellow human beings and the locale supporting them. We are a team, as a team, we can accomplish anything with time. Thank you.

To contribute to Nik’s inspirational cause and to learn more about his story, follow this link to his RallyMe site.

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