Sarah Miller in action at the 3.0 Adult Nationals in Tucson, AZ.
© Andrew Ong
By Matt Birch, Special to USTA.com
TUCSON, Ariz. --- Sarah Miller has left her home state of Oregon for the first time this weekend to compete with her teammates at the USTA Adult League 3.0 National Championships. She is an inspiration to her teammates, family and friends and has helped lead her team to Nationals, despite having epilepsy.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder where recurrent seizures are caused by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain.
Sarah, 21, was diagnosed with the disorder when she was 14 years old and took up tennis shortly afterwards at the recommendation of her doctors. She averages around three to four uncontrolled seizures per month, and often has difficulty remembering things in the hours following the seizures.
The seizures are often triggered by events that lead to significant brain stimulation, including her tennis matches and during holidays and other special events. Sarah and her parents, Roger and Sherry often work on controlling her environment to help prevent the seizures from occurring.
After taking tennis lessons for a few years, Sarah wanted to join a team. She signed up for a Jr. Team Tennis team, and her group was coached by her father. As the coach, Roger was able to help the team, and also would always be nearby whenever Sarah was practicing or competing. If she were to have a seizure while playing tennis, he would be able to be on the scene and know how to handle the situation.
Sherry also became involved with Sarah’s tennis practices and matches, and as a result of their unique involvement in the local tennis community, the Miller’s were named Family of the Year for the Pacific Northwest section in 2008.
Sarah explained that many people with uncontrolled epilepsy feel uncomfortable with participating in public activities, because they do not want others to see them have a seizure in public. However, Sarah has no fear of this, and always keeps a very positive attitude.
"I’m just excited that I get to play tennis," she said. "Even if I have a seizure, at least I still got to play. Everyone at our club is really nice to me, and it feels like family."
Jenny Davies is the co-captain of the women’s Pacific Northwest section team, which plays out of the Mountain Park Racquet Club in Lake Oswego, also spoke about how she and her teammates are inspired by Sarah.
"Sarah is an amazing person in every sense of the word," she emotionally explained. "She’s kind, very generous, empathetic, and enthusiastic. To me, Sarah seems happiest when she’s playing tennis and we all marvel at her ability to continue playing, even after having a seizure on the court. That tells you about the strength of her character."
In addition to tennis, Sarah also enjoys dancing and practices weekly. She hopes that she can be an inspiration to other people who have epilepsy. Her advice is to just go out and try, and not to worry about what other people think.
Clearly, Sarah has inspired her family, tennis team and community, and has definitely earned her place at the National Championships.