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1 year ago by JOSH FRIEDMAN

Crash Can't Stop Haddonfield's Finn Miller (Courier-Post)

When Finn Miller tells his tale of survival, he’s often asked if he thought he was going to die.

Alone in the woods, a broken left femur and tibia, a torrential storm pummeling his battered body, no cell phone, no help in sight – he understands the question.

“I think that could’ve happened if things went worse,” the 16-year-old admitted, “but that thought wasn’t in my mind.”

The Haddonfield High School junior was in a bad way after his Yamaha 230cc trailbike veered off course after hitting a patch of sand near Hammonton last summer, causing his leg to swing off the bike and collide with a tree.

“It was just dangling,” Miller said of his leg after the crash.

He was two miles into the trail and about four miles from his grandparents’ home, and he understood the severity of his situation immediately. However, Miller wasn’t going to just lie on his back and hope help would come.

Miller attempted to get up and use his bike as a walker for support, but that was too painful, so he grabbed a pair of sticks and tried to use them as crutches. When that didn’t work, he crawled. Even when the thunder and lightning struck, he kept moving.

“I’m not the kind of person that just sits there and waits for things to happen,” Miller said. “I was motivated to do something, like what I was doing, crawling. I wanted to get closer because I knew if they were going to come look for me, they had a better chance of finding me if I was closer (to the start of) the trail, so I kind of just made checkpoints. I was like that tree, I’m going to get to that tree, take a break. It was really tiring too, I think I fell asleep for like 10 minutes because I was so tired, and I remember being super, super thirsty, and once it rained I remember trying to drink the rain water because I was so thirsty.

“It was almost a survival instinct in there.”

Those instincts helped his grandparents and friend find him three hours later. That same perseverance helped him overcome six different surgeries, three blood transfusions and eight months of physical therapy to return to the Haddonfield High School soccer team this fall, where he earned the starting goaltender job.

“I definitely realized I would be out for a long time, but in my mind I had a goal to eventually be able to get back to where I was,” he said. “I never really I think told myself I wouldn’t play again."

The comeback trail

But Miller’s long road back had some bumps along the way.

After having a 16-inch rod inserted into his femur to repair the break, he began feeling tightness in his leg. Doctors discovered he had a hematoma, which forced him to go under the knife again. This surgery left a roughly 18-inch scar.

The complications didn’t stop there. Less than 24 hours after being released from the hospital in mid-August, he was rushed back because he developed compartment syndrome, where pressure builds up in a portion of the body.

“I was in such pain, I was angry, I was like angry at the nurses I remember,” Miller said. “… All the pain medication they gave me didn’t do anything.”

Thankfully the procedure went well, and he was discharged on Aug. 27. Three days later, he began PT.

The daily grind reminded him of his crawl back to civilization after his crash, but instead of setting his sights on a tree in the distance, it was getting off crutches or walking without a limp.

“I remember I had checkups with my orthopedic surgeon and he was amazed about how much motion I had (gained back),” Miller said.

He was cleared to return to action at the end of March and hoped get on the field for Haddonfield’s lacrosse team. However, the leg just didn’t feel right.

“I wasn’t cutting and stuff,” he said. “Obviously I had strength back and muscle and my bone was recovered and was healed and everything, but after not doing any athletics for that long of a time, I could tell my knee and my leg especially wasn’t used to it.”

So Miller made the difficult decision to sit the season out and continue building strength. It worked out.

“Going into the summer, I was a lot better even from March just from being active,” he said. “I did a lot of weight training over the winter and spring. That definitely helped me. … In the summer I go to the beach and I surf (at Long Beach Island), and my friends were asking me if I was going to be able to surf, and I was pretty confident I was, but I wasn’t 100 percent sure because obviously it’s twisting, it’s balance, it’s rotation. So I think once I was back on my board and able to surf again, I think I fully realized I was recovered.”

Starting goalie

Ryan Nixon’s biggest question entering the 2016 season was Haddonfield’s goaltender situation.

The Bulldawg coach had relied on Jonathan Baxter in net for three seasons, and replacing him wouldn’t be easy. However, his concerns were alleviated very early in the preseason.

“I really felt like there were going to be a lot of question marks as far as Finn was concerned and I think he’s really exceeded any expectations I’ve had,” Nixon said. “We told Finn and another boy, Adam Goodman, who’s a senior who backed up Jon Baxter for two years really, that they were going to face an open competition during camp, and literally two or three days into camp it was pretty clear, it was pretty apparent Finn was our guy.”

Miller knew he had big shoes to fill, but he’s definitely done the job as Haddonfield has started the season 4-1.

“He’s as gifted as any player I’ve ever had athletically,” Nixon said.

But it’s his character that has helped Miller exceed even his own expectations.

“I’m pretty impressed,” he admitted. “It’s a big accomplishment. I’m grateful to have come to be where I am now. … I put a lot into it, so what came out of it was rewarding.”

Josh Friedman; (856) 486-2431; jfriedman2@gannettnj.com


http://haddonfieldathletics.org
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