Naperville native pushes through adversity during COVID-19 pandemic

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By Joshua M. Hicks

Samara Miller

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many people’s lives have been changed. For student athletes, change can be considered a good thing or a bad thing. In regards to Naperville-native and second-year graduate school track player Samara Miller, it was a roller coaster of events that ultimately was meant for evil, yet turned around for her good.

When the plague of COVID-19 swarmed the country, the former Neuqua Valley graduate and current Purdue University star just finished competing in her last Big-Ten indoor conference season of her college career and was preparing to do her final outdoor track season before the NCAA put the season on pause. Once the NCAA ultimately made the decision to cancel the rest of spring sporting activities, the university switched their curriculums from in-person classes to online classes, forcing her to come home. At that moment of return, the relevancy of change altered her ways of life in a dramatic fashion.

Miller, 22, and her mother, Sharon Miller, became ill with flu-like symptoms. Samara recouped from her sickness within a week, but her mother remained ill for 40 days. Sharon, 56, underwent numerous tests and even though all of her tests came back negative, including tests for coronavirus, she was still diagnosed with mild symptoms of COVID-19. Samara admitted to the struggles she endured watching her mother suffer from the virus.

“[The doctors] couldn’t figure out what was wrong with [my mom],” Samara said. “It was hard to watch my mom go through that, especially since so many people we kind of disregarding the fact that there are people out here that are sick.”

Prior to her sports season being canceled, Samara was destined to finish her final collegiate sports season with the goal of participating in the upcoming Olympics, and she also had an internship lined up at the university. With reality settling in and all those festivities being eliminated/put on hold, Samara changed course and decided to receive local employment, finish her school year online while also taking precautions playing nurse when she can to her ill mother.

Sharon elaborated on the impact Samara has made in her life during that time.

“[Samara] really couldn’t be hands on with me, but the things around me she could,” Sharon said. “That was her biggest contributions and when I had my biggest episodes, she stepped in.”

While living this current new way of life, she also faced the hardships of staying in the shape she once before her season’s end. With her future collegiate track status being up in the air and no one in providing any certainty of next year, her training has been limited and is currently doing cardio workouts and making sure she does small exercises to keep her muscles tender for the spring sport.

Samara is also the President of the Student Athlete Advisory Team and is planning different initiatives and events for the upcoming school year with various leaders within the university.

Samara is currently facing a lot of turmoil, and even admitted to experiencing forms of depression throughout the current storms in her life, however, she still remains optimistic. Her optimism comes from her faith in Jesus Christ, and that faith has never wavered. She claims it was built due to her upbringing in the church.

My parents have always pushed my brother and I to be active Christians, not just religious Christians that operate in a routine,” Samara said. “I leaned on my faith more than I have before…I knew everything happened for a reason. I don’t know why my mom was meant to be sick, but I trust God with everything that I have.”

Romans 8:28 (KJV) states, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

The NCAA later on announced that spring athletes will be given an extra year of eligibility. Although the future is still unknown, Samara has the faith that her mother will continue to get better, and is grateful to have an extra year to finish her collegiate track career and fully pursue the goal of participating in the Olympics. All things worked together in the end for Samara.

“I was hurt by the cancellation of my outdoor season, especially it was technically supposed to be my last season, but thankfully I was granted a fifth-year of eligibility for outdoor track, even though I already had a fifth-year for indoor,” Samara said. “It is a true blessing to have a full year to finish out my track career at Purdue.”

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