Three years ago, Inquirer reporter Michael Vitez wrote about Matt Miller, an aspiring young triathlete from the Philadelphia area who survived a cycling crash that, but for an extraordinary stroke of luck, would have killed him. Vitez gives a full account of Matt's accident and his struggle to recover in a newly published book, "The Road Back: A Journey of Grace and Grit." All this week, Philly.com will be sharing excerpts from the book. In today's installment, a look at Matt's life before that fateful day.
When Matt Miller left his apartment a little after 7:00 that morning, November 2, 2008, he was happier than he'd ever been in his life. Everything was coming together for the young man with a Hollywood jaw and 4.0 GPA. He was just a 20-year-old third-year student at the University of Virginia, but his path through life was so clear, so within his reach, all he had to do was live it.
It had taken all of his 20 years to get to this point. But Matt Miller was nothing if not efficient and sensible. Figure out what you love and pursue it. All the pieces hadn't really come together until the last few months, and there still were a few hurdles ahead to clear - for instance, he had to graduate, and get into medical school, and get married - details like that. But that's what they were, only details. He had the plan and the will to make it happen. He was an exceptional young man with an exceptional future - just not the one he could foresee.
Matt was on his way that morning to meet Rudy and Chris. They were going to ride 85 miles into the Blue Ridge and up a mountain pass. As Matt pedaled through the silent, stunning grounds of the University of Virginia, where almost every other student was still asleep, he had no reason to suspect that his beautiful future was about to be interrupted. It wasn't that Matt felt or believed he was invulnerable. It was just that vulnerability, at this moment in his life, was the furthest thing from his mind.
Honestly, if Matt had thought about it, if he had just stopped and looked at his life in perspective, he would have had to acknowledge that he'd just enjoyed the best week of his life. A big reason for that, of course, was Emily.
Simply put, Matt Miller was in love with Emily Privette. He'd been in love with her since 8th grade, when he asked a friend of hers who sat next to him in the orchestra at Radnor Middle School to find out if she'd go with him to the 8th grade semi-formal. When he got word back that she'd say yes, he asked her.
This, according to Matt, was about the only good thing ever to come from his playing the viola, but in the long run, well worth it. They separated much of the evening at the dance, as 13-year-olds do, to hang with their respective genders, but Matt always made sure to come find Emily for the slow dances.
He asked her out on a real date after that - to see the latest Star Wars movie. Emily is the oldest of four, so this became an important family occasion. Her mother made a sign - "Emily's first date" - and forced Emily to hold it while she took a picture. Emily's little brothers even insisted on riding in the car with Emily and Matt to the movie.
This was all a little too much for Emily. She wasn't one of those girls, "who ever since 6th grade had to have a boyfriend," she said, and she broke it off. But Matt never lost the torch. It wasn't until senior year at Radnor High School, when she felt he finally seemed to have lost interest in her, that she became totally interested in him. So high school!
She started to instant message with him one evening - coincidentally, he will never forget, the day he got accepted early admission to Virginia. That was a great day. After a few more nights of IMing, Matt knew a good thing and went for it, and asked Emily out to Peace of Pizza one night in early December of their senior year. They had been together ever since.
Matt's attraction to Emily in middle school was the most basic - she was very pretty, with long brown hair, slender and lovely. And in high school and into college that never changed. But, again, Matt Miller was nothing if not sensible and practical. He knew a relationship built on looks alone could only last so long.
Once they started dating, and got serious, she made him feel like he was somebody special, although he knew he was not. He did things for her, things he never did for anyone else, things he could never imagine himself ever doing, like writing her poetry, quoting her lyrics from pop songs. Sometimes around her he didn't recognize himself. Who was this guy?
Plain and simple, Emily made him happy, and around her he felt like anything was possible. Matt long ago decided this was the girl he could marry.
Wednesday: Contacting Matt's parents after the accident.
Read Monday's excerpt: 'Battlefield Decision'
To Read More
Tuesday through Friday, philly.com/roadback will feature a daily excerpt from Michael Vitez's book "The Road Back: A Journey of Grace and Grit."
You can order the book at www.michaelvitez.com, amazon.com (Kindle and hard copy), or BN.com (Nook edition).
Vitez will be selling and signing books at:
The Irish Mile, 350 Haddon Ave., Haddon Township, Tuesday, May 22, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Haddonfield Library, for a discussion and signing, Wednesday, June 13, at 7 p.m.
Breakaway Bikes (with Matt Miller), 1923 Chestnut St., Friday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m.
Free Library of Philadelphia, Central Branch, for a discussion and signing, Wednesday, July 18, at 7 p.m.