Noah Miller is in a perpetual fight with his own body.
The Valley Christian senior has Hemihyperplasia–Multiple Lipomatosis syndrome, an ailment which peppers his back and legs with bone overgrowth, muscular atrophy and benign tumors.
Miller’s had an estimated 55 surgeries throughout his life, most during childhood but seven since eighth grade.
Bone fusions have limited the bending of his toes, and he can’t rotate either foot to the left or right. He used to be able to run, but can’t any more for fear of breaking the fusions.
More or less, his feet function like concrete blocks.
“He’s to the point now where he’s saying, ‘Man, if I have to have one more surgery on my foot, just take it off,’” Valley Christian baseball coach Kyle Smith said.
Despite the limitations, Miller still plays baseball for the Trojans’ varsity team.
The right-handed reliever has only thrown one inning this year, yet yearns for more. He understands the reality of the situation, but the competitive fire burns hotly within.
“For a coach I understand how tough it is to judge when it’s safe to put (me) in, but my main goal this year was to try to be a starting pitcher,” he said. “I’m still trying to weave my way in there.”
The one inning was not a charity case. Miller said he’s treated the same as his teammates, and doesn’t want it any other way.
He’s earned his spot on the team through hard work. Miller is a voracious weight lifter, his upper body more chiseled than the majority of his peers.
“When you watch him pitch, he’s not a superstar, but he throws the ball so much harder than you think because he’s so strong,” Smith said. “The things he is able to do, he really tries to do them. He’s at the point now where we really can pitch him in varsity games. He’s good enough to get outs. He throws strikes and he throws it hard enough where it’s not just going to be Home Run Derby.”
Miller had a rare, healthy stretch in his early teens. There was an 18-month time frame without surgery, and he competed in football, wrestling and baseball as a freshman at Valley Christian in 2009-10.
Former Trojans football coach Bill Morgan even set up a play that year for him to score a touchdown in a varsity playoff game against Williams, and Miller was on the sideline when the team won the 2A state title.
The fortuitous stint was fleeting, and the destructive syndrome has been a thorn in Miller’s side since. By his sophomore year, contact sports were ruled out, and he missed half of the past two baseball seasons after going under the knife each April.
Miller can’t imagine enduring 55 surgeries again in the next 20 years of his life — “Probably 10, max,” he said — but knows it’s a lifelong ordeal.
His teammates are in awe. Miller shows up each day without a fuss, ready to compete for a spot in the rotation.
“Some of us might be tired or sore sometimes, but there’s not much reason to complain when you look at him and what he’s gone through,” senior shortstop Daniel Streng said.
If things were different, it would be easy to envision Miller as a standout athlete with the Trojans. He has the work ethic and desire, but his body never cooperates. It’s during these times when reality hits him hardest.
“There’s a point when you become so frustrated because you want playing time and you can’t really get it,” he said. “Your mind is playing tricks on you. It’s like, ‘You can’t do that stuff. That’s why those kids are out there and you’re not.’ My therapist puts it like this: I’m an athletic kid in an unathletic body. My body wasn’t made for this.”
Although Miller’s participation in organized sports is nearly complete, he wants to stay involved.
He has been drawn to the human anatomy by his affliction and plans to attend the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs for a Physician’s Assistant degree, with an eye on becoming an athletic trainer.
And even though Hemihyperplasia–Multiple Lipomatosis syndrome has complicated his life, it’s also opened career doors.
“In a way, I wish I could have another body,” Miller said, “but at the same time, what I’ve gone through has made me the person I am today.”