Paonia's Anthony Miller went from the brink of death to state wrestling champion

(Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

PUEBLO — In June, a mountain biker stumbled across a gruesome scene and frantically dialed 911 hoping help could arrive in time. A dirt bike accident left Paonia senior Anthony Miller bleeding, broken and on the brink of death.

Nine months later, after having to relearn to walk and even after fighting off a COVID-19 infection, Miller stood at the top of the podium at the Southwest Motors Event Center. He's a state wrestling champion at a time that he's simply happy to be alive.

"The first thing I remember is waking up in the hospital," Miller said. "It felt like I was dreaming. That's what I asked my mom if it was a dream, because I had been in it forever."

It wasn't a dream. It was a coma.

The frightening reality of what happened started sinking in. While on his dirt bike, Miller crashed. He doesn't know how and he doesn't know how long he was on the ground unconscious before he was found and put on Flight for Life bound for Children's Hospital in Aurora.

He had two brain bleeds and six broken bones. There was doubt that he would live and even if he did, it was a near certainty that his days of competing in high school sports were over.

The first piece of new he received on that front was that playing football for Paonia was not an option. But as his rehab progressed, he got the green light to go out for wrestling.

"They told me I could wrestle and I didn't ask any questions," Miller said. "It sounded good to me."

Still learning to walk, he started hitting the weight room. Once he got his footing, he started running every morning. He was going into his senior wrestling season with a brand new lease on life. If a near deadly motorcycle accident wasn't going to stop him from competing, nothing would.

"I actually gained about 35 pounds since August training for this season," Miller said.

Miller wrestled at 195 as a junior in 2020. He took sixth in the bracket, always having dreams of coming back to win a state title. But he couldn't even begin to imagine the road that he had to go through.

Shortly after the 2020 state tournament, the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting high school sports. Then came the accident.

Just as he was getting healthy and recovering from that, he got hit by COVID.

"I had to miss the first two weeks of wrestling," he said. "I was glad I caught it because that meant I couldn't miss this for any reason."

He took advantage of the opportunity. He advanced to the championship match by pinning his first two opponents. Taking the gold wasn't going to be as easy as he and Wray's Harrison Wade were tied after three periods.

It just came down to who wanted it more, and when the final whistle blew, the kid that wanted it more was the kid who battled back from a near fatal accident.

"It didn't feel real," Miller said. "They gave me two (points) and blew the whistle and I couldn't believe it. Did I really just do that?"

He did. And to make it all the more impactful, his match is the last championship wrestling match for Paonia High School as it's getting consolidated with Hotchkiss next year.

Paonia's last champion is also the state's least-likely champion. There couldn't be a better ending to a wrestling story for both champion and school.