Local and provincial Special Olympics track and field coach Aleila Miller has been named head coach of the entire Canadian Special Olympics national athletics team.
She will help prepare and lead the Canadian team into the world games next year in Los Angeles, but before that, she’ll coach B.C. and Smithers athletes at the Canada Games in Vancouver this July.
“It’s an opportunity to bring out the best in people, to contribute to the legacy of the Special Olympics, both in our country and on the world stage,” Miller said, of her work with the program.
“And to make the world a better place for people with special needs.”
Growing up, sports provided solace for Miller.
“As a young person, sports provided a lifeline for me. So I wanted to go back to a sport that I was able to coach in.”
Miller started the Special Olympics track and field program some 15 years ago, soon after she moved to Smithers from Ontario.
“I came to Smithers because it looked like a beautiful place to be,” Miller said. “And now I have family and friends here and I call it home.”
When she arrived in town, Miller approached the Special Olympics and asked them if it would be possible to develop a track and field program for the community.
“It was really slow at the beginning, but it began to flow and develop each year and within a few years we had athletes competing at the provincial and national levels.”
“But whatever challenges come up, you work through them. Nothing can hold you back if you move forward in the best way that you can.
“And that’s what the Special Olympics is about, overcoming what seems like insurmountable odds, moving forward in the most beautiful way you can.”
Over time the program has grown, and now she is starting to see more younger athletes joining up.
Currently there are 12 athletes in the Smithers program, including youngsters Madison Zacharias and Kaley Richter.
“Just in the last couple of years we have been trying to draw in some younger athletes to the program and right now we have two younger athletes who are amazing, future world champions.”
Her effort doesn’t go unappreciated by athletes and parents alike.
“She is a really nice coach and a really good coach,” athlete Laura Strauss said.
“She has helped me out a lot.”
Strauss’ mother, Elize is also an assistant coach on the team.
“We are so proud of Aleila,” Elize said.
“She is such a great example of dedication and of having the athletes best interests at hear. She doesn’t put any pressure on them. She just wants them to do their best and have a great time.”
Laura, who runs the 100, 200 metre and long jump, recently qualified for the Canada Games in July, where she will attempt to advance to the world games next year.
Miller’s emphasis is light on results, heavy on fun and personal accomplishments. She encourages her athletes through positivity.
Perhaps her list of goals on her application to become Canada’s track and field head coach, sums up her philosophy best:
“To be a strong cohesive and inspiring team, working together to create empowered supportive environment in which everyone can reach their potential their goals and shine;
To represent ourselves, Canada and the SOC in a manner that honours the best of what our country has to offer in leadership ability and spirit;
To inspire everyone we meet to see Special Olympians as wonderful and capable human beings and in so doing to help the international community elevate its level of humanity towards people with special needs and improve their lives;
To have the most successful team and showing to which we are capable of both in process and outcome utilizing and incorporating best practice.”
Miller has been a provincial coach since 2007 and over that time, has travelled around Canada and as far as Shanghai, working with Special Olympic coaches at every level.
“One thing I have learned working with highly skilled coaches on the provincial team, they have a wealth of knowledge. Each of us brings something special to the table to enrich the lives of the athletes. And the athletes themselves inspire us. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have this position.”
Her new title, like her last one, is comprised entirely of volunteer work. Miller often puts in 20 hours a week, though with the new role, that number will increase.
That amount of volunteer work might be hard for anyone to incorporate into a busy schedule, Miller doesn’t dwell on negatives.
“I look at is as a great opportunity. I don’t hone in on difficulty. I find the experience inspiring and challenging. There will be more responsibility, sure, but I think it’s just a different position with more of a leadership role.”
In addition to her volunteer work with the Special Olympics, Miller also works with a holistic healing and heath care team that travels to third world countries to help children deal with the effects of poverty and violence.
“Quite often, special needs children are not treated well in other parts of the world, so it’s a great opportunity to help them and try to make their lives better.”
All of her volunteer work ties in to a philosophy that promotes a vision of creating a better life for people with special needs.
She began because she wanted to give back, but she found that, as much as she gave, the program also gave back to her.
“Being involved has helped me develop, both as a coach and as a person,” Miller said.
“I find the experience to be inspiring and a challenge, and having the chance to bring out the best in people and contribute to a legacy of sports in our country is a great honour.”