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‘Put the past behind you – the future is where potential lies’

Stephen Miller, one of the UK’s most decorated Paralympians, has announced his retirement from athletics ahead of this summer’s Paris games.

It’s been a while coming.

He’s 44, the body is slowing and showing signs of wear and tear (on top of the natural wear and tear) and, he admits, he’s been delaying the inevitable since narrowly missing out on the last games in Tokyo.

He’s lost the full-time funding, lost the time to train, lost the edge to train, lost the world ranking to compete with the young bucks coming through.

But he’ll never lose that competitive spirit which took him to three consecutive gold medals and six successive games appearances since he made his debut – and won his first gold – at the age of 16 in Atlanta.

Two days after our meeting at his home from home, the Concordia Leisure Centre, in Cramlington, Stephen is travelling to the Boccia England national championships, in Sheffield.

Boccia is a bowls-type Paralympic sport, which was designed for people like him with cerebral palsy to a high degree of impairment.

Of course he is. He’s not ready to give up on all sport just yet.

“I’m just a competitive person,” says Stephen, who actually qualified for the English boccia team aged 13.

He says: “I need an outlet for that competitive side to me.

“Boccia is the only outlet for a lot of severely impaired athletes and the opportunity to get to the Paralympics, so it’s a massive sport and very, very competitive.

“That’s one reason why I’m just trying to do it for fun.



“I’ve competed at the highest level for 28 years and it’s tough – really tough mentally and physically – with the pressure of competing and hitting your targets.

“When I picked athletics over boccia, I said at the time I can only do athletics for so long because it’s so physical.

“Nearly 30 years later, I’m ready to go back to boccia.

“And it would be very, very hard to qualify for the Paralympics… but you never know.”

Stephen may be 30 years late to the party, but he has no regrets about putting his boccia career on hold to concentrate on club throw.

The lethal combination of Stephen and his parents John and Ros meant he was always guaranteed to be ‘treated like any other kid’ from those formative days at Percy Hedley School, and in his home town of Cramlington.

But even they could never have envisaged he would grow up to become one of the North East’s most successful sportspeople.

One of his favourite stories sums up the collective bloody – Miller – mindedness, which has driven Stephen throughout his life.

He says: “I’m just a guy who’s always loved sport and I did try every sport.

“I just loved doing it and trying to learn how to get better and compete.

“Eventually, I found a sport where I could maximise my potential and I did it for selfish reasons.

“I wanted to be the best and see how far I could go.

“I was always quite driven; whatever I did, I liked to do it well.

“I’ve always been someone who’s been interested in the how, not the what, and to see if I can do something.

“When I was 10/11 at middle school, there was a trip to go ice skating and I insisted to my mum and dad that I was going.

“So I went along and it took my mam about half an hour to get the ice skates on.

Then I took one step on the ice, went flying, hit the deck, and I said, ‘ok, I don’t think I can do this’.

“My mam said, ’yeah, I told you, but you wouldn’t listen.’

“But I had to have a go. I had to say, ‘ok, I’ve tried and I don’t think I’m built for ice skating, but at least I tried it’.

“And my parents wouldn’t have had it any other way.

“They were happy to allow me to fail – and that’s important.

“I’ve always been like that. I have to try and, usually, most of the time I’ll find a way.”

Need further proof? Just watch Stephen using his smart phone.

He activates the device and sends texts, emails you name it. With his nose.

He says: “It took me years to get one because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to use it, but it didn’t really take me long to work it out.

“As human beings, we underestimate how adaptable we are to conditions, whether it’s conditions around us or our own condition.

“I mean, I have this condition called cerebral palsy, but that’s all it is.

“It’s a condition and your body and your mind adapt.

“We underestimate our own ability to adapt, but if we’re willing to accept it, you can find a way.

“I accepted my disability from a young age, and I think that’s a big thing because I wasn’t bothered what other people thought and never have been.

“I use the phone with my nose. So what?

“Some people might think it looks weird but I don’t care; that’s how I do it and it works.

“It’s what holds a lot of people back, they’re so worried about what other people think they don’t even try.”

Stephen was about 11 when he first tried club throw and, when he competed in his first international competition aged 15, just happened to throw the standard to qualify for the squad to represent GB in the Atlanta games.

It was the beginning of an incredible journey.

He worked with his first coach Norman Burns – as well as mum and main motivator Ros – and adopted an unconventional backwards throw technique with a specially designed frame to become the best in the world in the sport for a long time.



On his way to winning the medals and world and European titles, Stephen held the F32 club throw world record for 11 years from 1997 and travelled the world.

The memories from each Paralympics are still fresh – each city and event provoking different memories and emotions.

He says: “My coach in Atlanta was a guy called Ray Knight, and he could see I was like a rabbit in the headlights.

“I’d only been on an aeroplane once before and that was to go to the Isle of Man – he could see I was struggling a bit to take it all in.

“I didn’t compete until the very last night and my room-mate Danny West had won a bronze – in fact, nearly everybody in my apartment had won medals.

“On the day there was a hurricane that had come over from Florida, which delayed the competition, so we had to sit underneath the stadium waiting for the storm to pass.

“But when it came time to compete, I was completely focused.

“A lot of people would say it was probably one of the worst Paralympics, in terms of organisation, promotion and investment.

“The Atlanta Braves won the world series in baseball that week, the stadium was next door and was packed every night, while we had a few thousand rattling around an 80,000-seater stadium.

“Sydney was completely different.

“Australians love sport, so they did a great job and that was a huge success.

“That was when Tanni Grey-Thompson became a huge star.

“Then it took a dive in Athens; it was a great games and brilliant for the centenary, but the people just didn’t come to support and by that point the Olympics had pretty much bankrupted the whole country.

“And then Beijing was unbelievable – almost on a par with London.

“The stadium was full every day. The Chinese did a great job, really invested in Paralympics and we got much more live and online coverage with the BBC,” adds Stephen, who won bronze at the 2016 Rio Paralympics.

London 2012 should, of course, have been the highlight of Stephen’s glorious career, and although he captained the athletics team, and was part of the incredible event, from a personal perspective it was arguably one of his personal low points.

Stephen, whose dad John died after a short battle with cancer in 2010, was hindered by a hip injury in the run-up to the games, and had the difficult decision on whether to undergo surgery.

It was clearly painful on so many levels.

He can recall every moment of the build-up, the agony and the disappointment but, of course, the pride he was able to compete at his home games – even if he couldn’t really compete to the standard to which he had become accustomed.



He says: “The hip had been niggling for a few years.

“The consultant at the Freeman suggested fusing it, but it would’ve been stuck in one place and I was like, ‘nah maybe not’.

“I wanted to keep competing, but he said that was pretty much all they could do because of my condition.

“But I wouldn’t risk it, so my doctor at the English Institute of Sport, in Gateshead, put a shout-out online to ask if anybody might have a look.

“A professor and hip specialist from Coventry, Damian Griffin, who worked with sportspeople, got in touch and I ended up going in a room with a U-shaped table with all these doctors sitting round.

“I was in the middle, while they prodded me; I felt a bit violated, to be honest.

“They wanted to do an arthroscopy to clean the joint out, so I got knocked out for the operation and woke up thinking hopefully they’ve fixed it.

“But they told me they couldn’t get the camera into the joint and the only way would’ve been to dislocate it and they didn’t want to do that.

“They said I needed a full hip replacement, but it was not guaranteed for 100 per cent success and I might not be able to do sport again – not just for London but ever.

“I sat down with my team and said, ‘I don’t care, I want to compete in London’.

“That was my dream ever since the games were announced and there was no way I was going to miss it.

“The last time London had the Olympics in 1948, Paralympics hadn’t even started – it was a no brainer in the end.”

Eventually, Stephen would successfully have an operation to compete and live comfortably but – if there is one slight regret in his life and career – it’s that he could only reach 11th in his biggest competition.

He says: “Even though I had the operation after London, and it turned out to be a big success, I am still glad the way I did it.

“You can’t live your life on hindsight.

“I know at the time when I made the decision, it was the right decision.

“It was hard, though.

“For the first time in my career, I got quite a little bit of publicity; I did the Sainsbury’s campaign and got a really big build-up.

“It was weird because I wasn’t used to that kind of media attention and, at the back of my mind, I knew the problem was affecting my ability.

“I actually competed in the European Championships about a month before London and won gold, so I thought maybe I could be competitive, even though I was in a lot of pain and was very restricted in my movement.

“Even in training I was doing big throws, although it was very sporadic, and not consistent, and then on the day, for the first time, loads of family and friends could watch me compete.

“And it was an amazing atmosphere, but I just remember being in constant pain, even with the strong painkillers and cortisone injections I’d had every six weeks for over a year up to competition.

“But I can say I competed in London 2012.

“That was the dream. On the day, it just didn’t happen for me.”

After missing out on Tokyo – despite an appeal to the GB team selectors – Stephen knew those competitive days were ebbing away.



With his full-time funding also ending, he had to find alternative revenue streams to pay the bills and keep up the training schedule.

Now a regular visitor to schools, sports clubs and businesses, where he delivers his unique and inspiring motivational speeches, he’s found a new niche.

There’s also the Smile Through Sport charity he founded that will expand his interests in retirement – or semi-retirement – if the boccia takes off.

At the top of his website – – there’s a quote: Put the past behind you, the future is where potential lies.

Never has the phrase been more apt for the man himself, who competes for the last time at the Cerebral Palsy Sport National Championships, in Coventry, in September.

It’s time to put his own mantra to the test. And he knows it…

Stephen, awarded an MBE in 2016, adds: “I always said from a young age that I would know when to retire because I wouldn’t be enjoying it.

“When you stop enjoying it, that’s a sign it’s time to move on.

“I always try to look ahead and for the next challenge – my brand and belief has always been that you have to keep moving forward.

“I‘ve seen it happen in other people, where they get stuck in the past and full of regrets; I didn’t want to be like that. I didn’t want to be someone hanging on to that identity.

“My wife Rachel and my mam wanted me to put something out and announce my retirement from athletics – to take the recognition and enjoy it and celebrate it.

“Every challenge is tough, and this will just be a different kind of challenge.

“I will miss the competition, I have always loved that, but it is time to move on.”


  • Photography by Christopher Owens
  • Podium shots supplied by Stephen Miller

June 28, 2024

  • Feature

Created by Colin Young