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Young boy has true zest for living life

At 4 years old, Claremont resident Joshua “JJ” Miller has already taken part in dozens of runs, jogathons and even a triathlon. If his determination and level of activity at such a young age isn’t inspiration enough, factor in that this bubbly young boy, known for his sense of humor and sociability, does all this with 2 prosthetic legs.

He does it to help other challenged athletes around the world.

Through Team JJ, Joshua and a crew of supporters are running, swimming and biking to raise money and awareness for the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). Every year through the Access for Athletes program, CAF distributes millions of dollars in grants to those with physical limitations like Joshua who love maintaining active lifestyles. Last year, the Challenged Athletes Foundation distributed over $1 million to more than 1000 recipients in 63 countries around the world.

It can be tough trying to keep up with this spirited boy, who can often be found bouncing around the Claremont Village on his newest set of prosthetics, but for his parents, new advancements and opportunities provided through organizations like CAF are what keep his mom Laura Miller and her husband, Michael, going.

“When I first found out about his condition, I was really distraught. I thought of all these things he wasn’t going to be able to do,” said Laura Miller, Joshua’s mother. Athletes who have gone on to be Olympians through help from grants and modern technology inspired her.

“I am encouraged now that, one day, he will be able to do Little League if he wants to, or play soccer or ride a bike,” she said.

Any physical limitation seems irrelevant to Joshua, a social butterfly who barely seems to notice the rainbow-hued prosthetics below him. Even when he falls over, he gets back up with a smile. When asked about his favorite sport, it takes him all of about a second to answer baseball. Joshua proudly states he is a fan of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, though his favorite aspect of baseball might sound out of the ordinary.

“I love riding the escalators,” he states.

While Joshua now devotes his waking hours to running around, it wasn’t too long ago that family members were unsure if that would ever be the case for the loving 4-year-old. JJ was born in May 2008 with a series of birth defects, including a heart disease called Double Outlet Right Ventricle. He was forced to undergo a series of operations and nearly lost his life after complications with his first heart surgery at just 7 weeks old. At age 1 1/2, both his legs were amputated above the knees.

Instead of allowing it to keep them down, the challenges have spurred the Millers to live life in a new, more meaningful way. Joshua demonstrated an equally strong resolve, abandoning his walker by age 2 and participating in his first race the following October. With a recommendation from his mentor, Rudy Garcia-Tolson—a Paralympic gold medalist and Ironman triathlete—Joshua and his parents made their way to participate in the San Diego Triathlon Challenge in 2010.

“I was just blown away by what all these kids could do,” she said. “It was an eye-opening experience.”

“As a baby, I would hide his legs because I didn’t want people to gawk in public or feel sorry for us,” she continued. “But then I went to that event and the challenged athletes were really like the superstars.”

After seeing newfound friends of Joshua’s, with athletes running the San Diego race in their names, Ms. Miller knew she would love to have the same opportunity for Joshua. It would give Joshua a chance to help others, she said.

“We knew [CAF] would benefit our son, but we also saw where it could really benefit others as well,” she said. “We wanted the chance to spread the word and help others with a physical need.”

The opportunity came a lot sooner than she thought. In 2010, while at Camp No Limits (a retreat in Big Bear for children with limb loss), Ms. Miller was approached by a young woman named Natalie Forsberg, who expressed interest in getting to know her son. While talking to her, Ms. Miller made mention of the CAF triathlon and her goal of someday making a team of athletes in Joshua’s name.

“She was really excited and asked me to let her make teams for us,” Ms. Miller said, adding, “It turned out that not only did Natalie and I both receive our bachelor’s degrees at Azusa Pacific University, she was a Claremont resident and goes to my church. To us, it almost seemed like divine intervention!”

In 2011, about 2 dozen athletes competed as Team JJ for the first time. Over 30 joined late last month for the Team JJ’s 2012 San Diego Triathlon Challenge. Joshua hopes to join with Team JJ athletes in his own full-length triathlon someday. Through a recent grant, Joshua received a pair of flex-foot prosthetic feet to match his favorite athlete Oscar Pistorius, an Olympic runner at last summer’s London games. He got a chance to try out his new prosthetics on Halloween when he dressed up as the South American Olympian to go trick-or-treating.

“He is really fast,” Joshua remarked of his favorite athlete. He hopes to be just as fast one day.

With new bending prosthetic legs received 3 months ago, Joshua has wasted no time running around getting used to them and preparing for the transition to the runner’s feet on a more permanent basis. Watching her son move from walker to running around, Ms. Miller looks forward to the added opportunities CAF and technological advancements are giving to her son and those like him.

“We are really looking forward to that day when he can just feel the thrill of running and have the freedom of running on the grass or playing tag, keeping up with the other children at school,” Ms. Miller said.

Find out more about Team JJ by visiting www.teamjj.org/home. Join JJ’s cause by making a donation to the Challenged Athletes Foundation at www.sdtc12.kintera.org/joshuamiller.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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