Memoir reveals life before and after horrific accident

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  • Lexie competes in hurdles for Flathead in 1979. (Daily Inter Lake file)

  • 1

    Lexie competes for the University of Oregon in the early 1980s. She holds the university record in the 400 hurdles. (Photo provided)

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    In this August 1979 photo, Lexie Miller trains on the hurdles at Rawson Field in Kalispell in preparation for the Junior AAU Olympics in Bozeman. Miller competed in the pentathlon, comprised of events in the 300-meter hurdles, shot put, high jump, long jump and 800-meter run. (Inter Lake file photo)

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    Lexie Miller WYMAN, pictured at her Kalispell home, recounts both the glory days of her years as a track star and the agonizing aftermath of a devastating car crash in 1991 in her memoir, “Still Lexie.” (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

  • Lexie competes in hurdles for Flathead in 1979. (Daily Inter Lake file)

  • 1

    Lexie competes for the University of Oregon in the early 1980s. She holds the university record in the 400 hurdles. (Photo provided)

  • 2

    In this August 1979 photo, Lexie Miller trains on the hurdles at Rawson Field in Kalispell in preparation for the Junior AAU Olympics in Bozeman. Miller competed in the pentathlon, comprised of events in the 300-meter hurdles, shot put, high jump, long jump and 800-meter run. (Inter Lake file photo)

  • 3

    Lexie Miller WYMAN, pictured at her Kalispell home, recounts both the glory days of her years as a track star and the agonizing aftermath of a devastating car crash in 1991 in her memoir, “Still Lexie.” (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

Lexie Miller Wyman was a record-breaking Flathead track star in the late 1970s and early ’80s, a phenomenal athlete who competed in two Olympic trials.

She was a regular in the Daily Inter Lake sports section, where reporters lauded her running and jumping at every opportunity.

“Lexie Miller Stars,” “Speedster Cops Four Firsts,” “Born To Run,” the headlines proclaimed.

Some of her high school track records still stand today, in the 100- and 200-meter dash, the 100-meter hurdles and the long jump.

Then she headed to the University of Oregon and helped fuel the Ducks to top-five finishes in the national meet in each of her final three years. Lexie still holds the university’s record in the 400-meter hurdles.

She competed in the 100-meter hurdles at the 1980 Olympic trials and in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1984 Olympic trials, but came up short both times. Her picture was in Sports Illustrated in 1980.

The tough-to-beat Kalispell native had life by the tail after college. She was married, had two children and was poised for a career in education and coaching. She was ready to handle whatever life threw her way.

Then life got the upper hand for a while.

In 1991 a pickup traveling 50 mph broadsided her car. Lexie’s young son, secured in a car seat in the back, suffered facial lacerations that needed over 100 stitches but was otherwise unscathed.

Lexie didn’t fare as well. She suffered severe injuries, including a traumatic brain injury that left her with what she describes as “an unmistakable limp, terrible balance, wandering eyes and vision issues.”

Twenty-seven years after that life-altering accident, Lexie Miller Wyman has written a memoir about her life — and rebuilding it after the crash — in a self-published book called “Still Lexie.”

“Though I lost nearly everything, lessons learned from sports lived in my subconscious, driving me forward when nothing else could,” she said.

With support from her high school classmate and published author Kelly Simmons, Lexie expanded what she called her “blog babble,” — writing she’d been doing to help her remember snippets of her life. After she included the details of her formative years in Kalispell, she found more than enough material for a 231-page memoir. Another Flathead graduate, Heidi Ostrom Duncan, edited the book.

It took Lexie years to regain her memory and it came to her in bits and pieces. The brain injury divided her life into polar periods, she said — “before and after.”

Her book is a trip down memory lane for longtime Kalispell residents who remember her standout high school and college sports career. Lexie is the middle daughter of Shirley and the late David “Moose” Miller, who started the landmark Moose’s Saloon that’s now run by Lexie’s sister Wallis. Her memoir shares not only her recollections of how she came to become such a good athlete, but also personal insight about her family and the support of her parents.

Shirley and Moose Miller, a UM Griz standout athlete in his own right, “were by my side every step of my way to track brilliance,” she recalled.

It was her mother, in fact, who urged Lexie to get involved with the Timberettes, a track and field team for young girls started by Neil Eliason, who Lexie refers to as a “sports visionary.” Neil Harte joined Eliason to help run the girls track club that would groom quite a few standout athletes in Lexie’s age group.

“My mom was trying to get us involved in things,” largely to keep the Miller kids out of trouble, Lexie said.

In the book she writes that her mother “tends to boast that all her children are perfect.

“It’s good to support your kids, but none of us were perfect children. Nor are we perfect adults,” Lexie notes.

One could call it divine intervention, because it was a nun at St. Matthew’s Catholic School who was the first to take note of Lexie’s athletic prowess. As a sixth-grader, Lexie was already equipped with the long, lean legs and arms that would propel her forward on the track.

After Lexie won big during the races at St. Matthew’s on her final day of sixth grade, the nun pulled her aside and encouraged her: “You need to keep running.”

Lexie told the nun she doubted she’d continue running. But at Linderman School the next year she ran a timed mile that had everyone sitting up and taking notice.

Ruth McKay was the physical education teacher, and her husband Joe was timing the mile that day.

“I must have done good because he told me to come out when I got to high school, so I did,” she recalled.

“Joe was serious about track and worked hard to help his athletes shine,” she wrote in her memoir. McKay coached track in Kalispell for 35 years, with 28 seasons as head coach.

Dan Hodge, another mentor and coach, also turns up in the book. Hodge and McKay taught Lexie and her teammates how to hurdle.

“I was a better hurdler than a runner,” she reflected. “And I was a pretty good long-jumper.”

“Still Lexie” is filled with warm recollections and sometimes humorous anecdotes about her childhood years. Lexie’s writing style reflects her personality, gregarious yet reflective, funny yet poignantly insightful, especially about what it took to battle her way back after the accident.

“For a long time I was not really with it,” Lexie said about the aftermath. She spent a month in one hospital, then another three months in a second hospital to focus on rehabilitation. She did physical therapy for years in Southern California, where she and her then-husband Gary Beck lived with their young son and daughter.

Her husband hired a nanny to help care for the children. Lexie’s parents visited when they could, and Gary had family in the area. Still, it was a long, hard slog for Lexie.

She had to learn how to talk again because her jaw was broken in the accident. Even today she has numbness on her right side that messes with her physical abilities. And the traumatic brain injury is an added challenge. Their marriage eventually ended in divorce, but Lexie is quick to point out, “I give him credit for me being where I’m at physically. He acted like a coach.”

And coaching was something Lexie inherently related to.

She went on to have a teaching career in Boise, Idaho, for many years before moving back to Kalispell in 2009. At one point a few years ago she was coaching three sports at Kalispell Middle School and working as an aide. She’s cut back to coaching just junior high hurdlers these days.

Lexie also got a second turn at love. She married Dan Wyman, a fellow Kalispell longtimer who “is the kindest, most positive man I know.” Incidentally, Dan’s younger brother Dale wrote sports stories for the school newspaper and the Inter Lake, including the one about her final high school track meet when she set a state record in the long jump and won several other events.

It’s funny how life tends to come full circle, she mused.

Her athletic accomplishments are in the history books, but not forgotten. In 2014 Lexie was inducted into the University of Oregon Hall of Fame.

“She was much more than an extraordinary hurdler who proved to be among the nation’s best. She was the backbone of a women’s track and field program that was dominant among the dual-meet circles...” the Hall of Fame plaque states.

At 56, Lexie said her age sometimes encroaches on the lingering effects of her injuries. She uses a walker, largely because her balance “is so bad and seems to be getting worse.” The traumatic brain injury manifests itself on a daily basis, playing games with her thought process.

“In Boise I worked for so many years at not being disabled,” she said. “When I moved home I had to embrace my disability.”

In the prologue of her book she writes about riding in the Le Tour de Koocanusa on her three-wheel recumbent bike with her riding partner, Justin. The 83-mile trek is a challenge for most able-bodied riders, and Lexie’s journey that day was anything but easy.

They’d pedaled more than nine exhausting hours in close to 90-degree heat when race organizers decided to pull everyone who wasn’t finished off the course.

Justin and Lexie were the lone competitors left on the route; the ambulance on standby had already returned to the hospital

“Even though it wasn’t a race, my brain whispered, ‘We will be last,’” Lexie wrote.

Organizers apologized, telling them they’d had “a helluva ride.”

And they allowed the pair to ride from the top of the last hill to the finish line. That’s one memory that’s still crystal clear.

“As I rolled to the finish at the bottom of the hill, both arms held high, for the first time in my life, last place seemed okay to me.”

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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