Saying she is an Army veteran, a double amputee, and an Olympic gold medalist is just the beginning of who Kari Miller is.
She is a self-described geek who loves sci-fi, and her husband, Jay Ortiz, a strength trainer and disabled veteran who served in both the Marines and Army, and is the reason Kari now lives in Texas.
The buoyant personality of this coach and advocate of people with disabilities sparkles infectiously. Kari doesn't even consider losing her legs the most tragic adversity she has faced. "It was a rough spot in my life, but it wasn't the most tragic."
Kari believes tragedies and letdowns teach you to be adaptable and how to persevere. They have made her who she is today—a woman with a mission to give back.
"Any way that I am able to empower and help other people because I have been given so much," Kari says. "That's what drives me."
Kari Miller is a three-time Paralympian, a 2008 and 2012 silver medalist, who won gold as part of the U.S. Paralympic Sitting Volleyball Team at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.
Now she is the U.S. Coach for the Sitting Volleyball Team at the Invictus Games scheduled for April 16th in the Hague, Netherlands.
Kari first met the Games' Founder, Prince Harry, while competing at The Warrior Games in Colorado Springs in 2016. Back then, she was more than a bit enamored with meeting the Prince.
"I was presenting him with a shirt, and he kissed me on both cheeks, and in my mind, I said, 'That means we're married." laughs Kari.
She and the rest of the U.S. veterans made an impression as well, for this was the trip that inspired HRH, The Duke of Sussex, to launch the international Invictus Games to bring together wounded veterans from around the world. Invictus means unconquered.
Kari's journey to get here traversed tragedy and even failure.
While serving in 1999, Kari was hit by a drunk driver and lost her legs. Suddenly the multisport athlete who loved to run track and play basketball could no longer compete. So she found a new way.
"I had this accident, but immediately I got involved in adaptive sports, immediately I became able to travel the world."
She became a top-tier wheelchair basketball player but ultimately failed to make the Paralympic team. Kari believes what she had already overcome enabled her to power through the disappointment. She tried sitting volleyball, fell in love with it, and ended up being the best in the world.
"The best in the world at a sport I had never heard of or done before, all from not being chosen." Kari says, "Be open. You never know where life will take you."
Adaptive sports were a big part of her recovery, and she strives to help others use them too. Studies show that sport can physically, psychologically, and socially impact those suffering from injuries and illness. Kari feels this is especially true for service members.
"A big part of being in the military is the comradery. We all have this one mission," Kari says. "So to be taken away from that mission, from that comradery, before you were ready it's just depressing, it's a culture shock, so bringing them into sports brings that back."
After her first Paralympics in Bejing, she took a job with the U.S. Paralympics. After London, she joined the Airforce's wounded, ill and injured program. While there, she helped create community programs and change how Doctors assign profiles to service members. Instead of saying they were unfit for P.T., they looked at ways for the injured to participate in activities.
"What you get from that is you get the muscle tone, the ability to bounce back if you do get injured, because ya know people fall down, right?' Kari says, "but if you fall down and you have no muscle tone, poor circulation, and you're depressed, you're not going to get up."
Now she is the Director of People and Culture for Move United, the largest disabled sports organization across the U.S. It helps fund other organizations that put on events for adults and children with disabilities. Move United has 202 chapters. While it supports other organizations in the Houston area, it does not currently have a chapter here. Kari is involved in outreach to change that.
With the Paralympics coming to LA in 2028, Move United hopes to give opportunities to pursue an adaptive sport to 90% of those with disabilities within 50 miles of where they live. They are currently at 70%, and Kari Miller is determined to get them there.