Holly Miller pumps iron to ease her pain.
This September, she’ll gun for the title of “World’s Strongest Disabled Man” — or woman — heading to London to compete with athletes from around the world.
A special education teacher at Amherst Steele High School, Miller, 38, is among the first women from the United States to test their strength against men at the annual event.
Women are an increasing and welcome presence in strength sports, and muscularity is more and more becoming a part of culture’s definition of beauty.
“I think we’re moving away from that image that says we have to be skinny and cute,” Miller said. “Not that being pretty or cute is a bad thing, just that there’s so much more to who you are than your face.”
The competition is for people with disabilities, so athletes may have amputated limbs, cerebral palsy, or blindness.
Miller qualified in May at the America’s Strongest Disabled Athlete Strongman Competition, where she finished first in the seated division. Spectators might mistake her for fully-abled, and she said she is asked often how she is disabled.
“Many people, myself included, suffer from disabilities that are only visible from inside the body. In order to visualize my disability you would have to take a look at my X-rays and see the metal brackets and screws that hold my spine together,” she wrote online. “You would have to realize that I have had four back surgeries, including a spinal fusion and spinal cord stimulator implantation. You would also have to see the autoimmune disorder called psoriatic arthritis that is wreaking havoc on my back, knees, hands, and feet.”
Psoriatic arthritis causes the body’s own defense system to attack healthy tissue such as tendons, ligaments, and skin. It causes inflammation, pain, stiffness, and swelling.
Doctors often ask patients to rate their pain on a scale from one to 10. For Miller, an average day rates around a four or five, which physicians would consider moderate.
Working out helps her feel better: “People ask, ‘Why do you work out so much?’ I say, well I’m going to be in pain anyway.”
Before becoming a teacher, Miller was an aerobics instructor in the early 2000s. She said low-impact, repetitive cardio workouts actually took more of a toll on her body than the weightlifting she does today.
Keeping her feet on the ground is the key because it reduces pain, she said. Running and jumping cause more pain.
Four years ago, Miller joined the Blind Dog Gym and started lifting. As she became stronger, she grew interested in strongman competitions.
“I knew going into those competitions that I would never come in first,” she wrote. “In fact, It was almost a given that I would come in last. None of that mattered to me because I was doing things that I never thought were possible.”
“I live my life in pain. I often have to reach inside myself to even get out of bed some mornings. But, I have a family, a daughter, and a career — so every day I get up, put on a smile and somehow manage to make it through, knowing that there are others out there that have it far worse than I do.”
Those quotes come from the “Send Holly to the World’s Strongest Disabled Man Competition” donation request page at www.youcaring.com, where she has set a $3,000 goal.
Donations will help with transportation and lodging costs for the Sept. 3 world competition in England.
There will also be a fundraiser from 5-8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 25 at Ziggy’s Pub & Restaurant, 193 Park Ave.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.