“Can’t is not a word in my vocabulary.”
For anyone who knows Jaye Milley, these eight words will be familiar ones by now. The Calgary-based athlete who considers Windermere home when he’s not on the road has made an incredible impact on the world of cycling and, at 21, has been selected to represent Canada in two different disciplines during the 2012 Paralympic Games that kick off on August 29.
Milley is currently training in Roubaix, France as of August 15, and will be leaving for London, England on the 25th.
“Ever since I started racing, I pretty much had a goal of making the London team and to have that come, true words can’t even describe it,” Millie told The Valley Echo. “I don’t even know what to say.”
A 2011 World Cup champion in road racing with a bronze medal from the Track World Championships in 2010 — his first year with the national team — Milley is a quadruple amputee, having been born with four underdeveloped limbs. Nicknamed “The Iceman” for his calm, cool and collected approach, Milley has been racing since he was 14, when he was forced give up his beloved sport of soccer and switch to something else.
“I played all sports right through junior high, volleyball, basketball, all the teams, but my love at the time was for soccer,” he said, “but unfortunately the stop and go movements were not so good on my stumps and on my knees and I actually ended up cracking my patella.”
When his doctors advised him to stop playing soccer, Milley was upset. Out of the five divisions in his age group, he had worked his way up to the second-highest team. Forced to quit, he turned to cycling at his mother’s suggestion.
They met with Steven Burke, the Canadian Para-Cycling Team coach who at the time was just returning from the 12th Paralympic Games in Athens.
“At that point I couldn’t even ride a two-wheeler,” said Milley. “I tried for years and years and years to try and ride a two-wheeler and I don’t know what it was but I could not, I was so close.”
Up until he met Burke, Milley has been riding a tricycle dubbed “The Tank” that weighed about 50 pounds and was outfitted with a grocery getter on the back.
“When we met Steven he said, ‘You know what? We’re going to get you on a two-wheeler and not only that, you’re going to be racing,” said Milley with a laugh. “From that moment on, I started training and he taught me how… I think it took his expertise as a Paralympic coach to get that last little skill set.”
The skill set didn’t come easy — it took Milley almost six months to find his balance. He didn’t have to practice alone, however. He had the company of his younger sister who was learning how to ride on her own two-wheeler.
“We would actually go up to the local school park together,” said Milley, “and here I am at 14 and I think she was five or six or seven at the time, and we’d go around and around and we’d fall over and we’d come home with skinned knees.
“It was a really cool experience to share with your little sister.”
In his last year of high school, Milley decided to make the jump to the national team and began training twice as hard. His efforts finally paid off — he made the cut the summer after he graduated from Grade 12 and went on to compete in the world championships in Baie-Comeau, Quebec. Since then he’s been in full swing training with the national team.
“It was first time that Canada hosted the world championships for cycling so it was quite amazing to have my first international race as well as the first time of it ever being in Canada,” he said.
Coming up, in London, Milley will be competing in four events. On August 30 and 31, he will be on the velodrome track in the individual one-kilometre time trial and individual pursuit respectively, and on September 5 and 6, he will be competing on the road in the individual time trial as well as in the bunched start road race.
Training, so far, is “phenomenal,” said Milley.
Despite coming off an injury — soft tissue damage in the bottom of his left leg that gives him difficulty walking — he said he is close to 100 per cent on the bike and has been putting in solid training sessions — he’s riding a Cannondale for his road bike and a Cervelo frame on the track.
“I’m feeling pretty good, I’ve been training really hard,” he said. “As long as it keeps up on the bike we’ll be fine; at this point we’re just playing catch up for the 2.5, three weeks I missed and it’s going well, it’s going really well.”
When he’s not training and racing, Milley keeps himself busy as a motivational speaker, and if there is one thing he wants to impart on people, it’s that anything can be accomplished once you put your mind to it. Disability, he said, is the wrong word.
“You’ve got to be able to turn it into an ability,” Milley said. “I think it’s important that people do realize that (and) it’s not only people with a disability or a handicap or whatever you want to call it, regular people too.”
He began spending time in Windermere when his mother moved to the valley last October, after his father had passed away the year before.
“Since they’ve moved out, I’ve gone out a fair amount and I’ve actually been thinking about making a full time move there,” said Milley, adding that he already spends more time here than he does in Calgary.
And the help he’s received from Byron Gray at Bicycle Works in Invermere has been amazing, he said.
“We actually met a few months ago and he’s helped me out so much,” he said.
Milley is one of the featured athletes in the Canadian Paralympic Committee’s Super Athletes marketing campaign and his promotional video can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlrmsDKLDqQ. For ongoing updates of his Paralympic experience, follow him on Facebook under “Jaye-Milley.”