Preparing to speak to employees at Citi in Hagerstown, Kari Miller walked calmly up to the podium, smiling and waving as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
“Being disabled only means that you have to find another way of doing all the things that you want to do,” Miller said. “I know I lost my legs, but at least now can be as tall as I want to be.”
Miller lost her legs in a 1999 car accident involving a drunken driver that killed the driver of the vehicle in which she was a passenger.
In 2008, she was a defensive specialist on the U.S. Paralympic sitting volleyball team that won the silver medal in Beijing, China. Miller said she plans to compete on the same team in the 2012 Paralympics to be held in London, England, from Aug. 29 to Sept. 9.
Miller, 35, said she did not know what happened to the drunken driver who injured her but expressed sympathy for him.
“Imagine having killed someone. He has to live with that everyday, and I have this great life,” she said. “Some of us have made that mistake in having a couple drinks. I know I have, I’m not going to lie. I’m no angel.”
On Wednesday, Miller spoke to employees at Citi, one of many stops in the Citi Team USA Flag Raising Tour she is going on as part of the financial institution’s Team USA sponsorship.
“It’s awesome being able to come back home,” said Miller, who graduated from Cardozo High School in Washington, D.C. “I used to go to school in West Virginia, so we would drive out this way to get out there.”
After speaking to the employees, Miller went outside and raised a Citi Team USA flag that will stay up throughout the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games.
“We are very honored and grateful to have (Miller) here at the site,” Hagerstown Citi site President Deb Gorbsky said. “She has been such an inspiration.”
A former member of theU.S. Army, Miller is participating in Citi’s U.S. Olympic and Paralympic sponsorship program called Every Step of the Way. It is a program that funds U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Games.
She is also an ambassador for the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Paralympic Military and Veteran Program, which introduces wounded servicemen and women to Paralympic sports.
“Seeing someone like me would have helped me when I got injured,” Miller said. “Mentors like myself and other injured service members is invaluable in the recovery of soldiers.”
Miller’s transition to playing volleyball was not easy. Miller said she was first interested in wheelchair basketball, which she played at the University of Illinois in 2001. But, in 2004, she missed the cuts in trying out for the U.S. Paralympic basketball and volleyball teams.
“I knew nothing about volleyball other than they wear little shorts,” she said. “The coach told me after the tryouts, ‘You’re very athletic, but you suck.’”
However, Miller kept training and made the U.S. Paralympic team in 2006. That year, she trained with other team members in Oklahoma City, Okla.
“It was a great journey from being not chosen to be on the wheelchair basketball team and not chosen for the sitting volleyball team to being one of the best,” she said. “I’ve loved every step of it.”
Miller joined the military in 1994 and served in Bosnia, Korea, and Germany. She has attended multiple schools, including what is now Salem International University, Montgomery College and the University of Illinois. She was attending Montgomery College when the accident occurred.
As a corporate sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Committee, Citi has donated $500,000 to help athletes thank the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Sport Programs.
On its Every Step of the Way Program website, everystep.citi.com/, citizens can pick the athlete or U.S. Paralympic Sport Program they want to support.
Miller is one of 13 athletes participating in the program, according to an emailed news release.
Despite her accomplishments, Miller still said she has some unfinished business in the 2012 Paralympics.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for anybody, but the best part about it is that I get to get revenge on China,” she said.