Lacrosse star Kyle Miller a hero beyond the playing field

Sometimes in life, you hear about someone whose path you wish had crossed your own.

You get a strong sense - even from afar - as to the remarkable nature of a person's life and can't help but feel a little bit robbed that you never met them.

Kyle Miller seems just that kind of remarkable person.

Lacrosse legend, tooth and nail cancer fighter. Motivator. Burgeoning author. At the age of just 31, taken from his family and community. Not just from Miller's native community of Orangeville, Ontario, but from a much, much larger one filled with fans, friends and acquaintances who were touched by his journey.

Part of that family, the Orangevillle Northmen junior "A" team, began paying tribute to Miller on Sunday night, wearing his initials and number on their helmets. Those same initials and number were added to a memorial banner in their home arena. Others paid tribute to Miller through social media. More will add their thoughts at a memorial service on Thursday.

Miller passed away early Saturday morning, succumbing to the ravages of a second battle with cancer, one he'd fought for nearly two years.

Beyond his decorated lacrosse career - he won four Ivy league titles playing goal for Cornell and a world championship for Canada in 2006, Miller's "can do" spirit and seemingly bottomless well of benefaction are being remembered as well.

"He was literally one of the best people I've ever met in my life. He was funny and thoughtful and loved his family and friends more than anything," wrote Andrew McKay, in an email.

McKay, a Yahoo! Canada editor and columnist with a long and dedicated affiliation to the sport of lacrosse, wrote about Miller on many occasions including this fine piece on his friend's relationship with another legendary lacrosse netminder, the late Chris Sanderson.

Miller's lacrosse championships were notable in many ways. Canada had not won the world title in 28 years when he and Sanderson were between the pipes for them in 2006. (You can see Miller make the final save in that victory and the ensuing celebration in the video below. He'd taken over from Sanderson late in the gold medal game with Canada up 15 - 10)

Most notably, that victory, as well as the four titles he was part of at Cornell, came in the wake of Miller having a shin bone replaced as he began to beat back osteosarcoma cancer (the same pernicious disease that the immortal Terry Fox fought) eleven years ago.

It was an incredible recovery and comeback, worthy of astonishment and praise of the highest order but one which Miller apparently saw as just another foe to be defeated.

"He didn't like being sick, but he saw it as just another thing to beat, the same way he had to win the job as Cornell's starting goalie," said McKay.

Beyond the glories of lacrosse, Miller became a dedicated and effective speaker, illustrating the power of triumph over adversity by expressing his own thoughts and emotions around his experiences and had - along with McKay - begun the process of mapping out the structure of a book he'd wanted to write. It's a project that will, hopefully, go on in Miller's memory.

A star as an athlete, it seems Miller equalled or even surpassed that billing as a motivational speaker and it was a role he relished.

"The greatest thing that ever happened to him was getting a grant so he could spend all his time going to schools to talk to students," McKay remembers. "He loved meeting kids and inspiring them."

"It really saddens me to lose a friend, but it also saddens me that there are hundreds of schools and thousands of kids he didn't get a chance to talk to."

Miller kept up his good spirits, when around friends. He'd started a campaign to search for the perfect hat, realizing that chemotherapy was about to rob him of his hair.

As well, in the early stages of his renewed battle, he'd gathered with family and close friends in order to have a decent party with them, knowing that following that, he'd need to revert to a more solitary life, steeling himself for another fight with cancer.

This time, the disease was found in one of his lungs and led to his much too early passing on the weekend.

In a very sad and well-known coincidence, Miller's national team goal mate, Sanderson, was taken by cancer just about a year ago. In the summer of 2011, Miller helped spearhead a benefit drive for Sanderson that accrued some $20,000.00.

He continued to scheme to raise money for cancer research. His search for a perfect hat became something else, an ongoing merchandising fundraiser centred around the theme of 'beat it.'

That is merely one legacy that will no doubt live on, in memory of the astonishing Kyle Miller.

Condolences can be offered through the Dods and McNair Funeral Home, Chapel and Reception Centre.

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