Madison Miller admittedly felt let down after finishing second in the discus at last year's state track and field meet. But rather than focusing on the negative, she set out to build on it.
"It was really disappointing, but it was still a huge improvement from the year before. I ended up taking second in discus, but the year before I got dead last," the Woodrow Wilson senior said. "It was a huge improvement and I was really proud about it."
Miller checked in with a strong throw of 114 feet, 10 inches, but felt she could have done better. She was projected to win the state title after a regular season that saw her top heave land nine feet better than her competitors, but defending champion Ravyn Goodson of Huntington repeated with a throw of 118-7.
Sometimes determination can be derived from disappointment, which is certainly true in Miller's case. Coach George Barbera marveled at the work ethic she has displayed since that mid-May Saturday.
"(Not winning), it got her. She was nervous, she didn't have her best day, but she took second. But she was devastated," Barbera said. "And I kid you not, that girl has been in the gym with her father every week since the season ended. I saw her all summer, I saw her all winter, and she had transformed herself into a collegiate athlete before her senior year."
Barbera has been with Miller since the beginning. He was her soccer coach at Park Middle School, where she also played basketball. She stuck with basketball when she started at Woodrow, but Barbera also approached her about joining the track team.
Things didn't go well at first. After all, she had never done it before. But as time went by she progressed, and she could see her future taking a different path than she once expected.
"I wasn't very good. I didn't have a (personal) coach so I didn't know what I was doing," Miller said. "After I got better at this, I decided that I was better at track and this is what I needed to focus on. So I walked away from basketball and that was a really good decision. I had time to focus on training."
Not that the decision was a slam dunk.
"It was really hard. I've played basketball since I could walk," she said. "It was very difficult. I thought about it probably three or four months before I made the decision. During track season, I couldn't be committed to both. I couldn't make all the basketball practices and still focus on my primary sport."
She has been committed to the sport ever since and never misses work. Her workouts have been regimented, especially since last year's state meet.
"In the offseason I did a bodybuilding routine. Three to five days a week I would do lifts to get my strength up in specific muscles," Miller said. "In the winter and closer to the season, I took up Olympic lifting. Same thing, three to five days a week. The closer we got to the season I started to put in some throw-specific stuff. When we got right up to the season I started throwing three to four days a week and lifted on those days, too."
"It's the work that she's willing to put in in the offseason, the preseason and the postseason," Barbera said. "It's the dedication that her parents have to helping her be successful in this sport. I know they were probably crushed when she walked away from basketball, but they were supportive from day one. They were excited for her to try something new. She was doing good in the beginning, but once she realized that she loved it they were all in.
"She is a terrific athlete. I knew she was a hard worker. She's just taken it from there and gone with it. She puts the same effort in this sport as she does in the classroom."
Indeed, Miller is just as successful within the walls of Woodrow Wilson High School as she is in the pits. She scored a 1450 on her SAT and currently carries a 4.6 grade-point average.
Those successes have garnered Miller college attention. She will attend the University of Alabama, where she will throw discus and shot put after turning down an offer from Dartmouth.
"It (her intended major) changes all the time," Miller said. "I'm leaning toward a math statistics kind of thing right now."
As it looks more and more like a senior year that won't happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller continues to work. She hit a personal best of 124 feet and was confident she was charging toward something special.
"My numbers were getting significantly higher than they were last season," Miller said. "So I was ready for this year to come."
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