After the introduction of the 65+ division for the 2021 CrossFit Games season, masters athlete Kathy Miller returned the big stage after a 10-year hiatus. She finished the 2021 Open in 19th worldwide, the Age-Group Online Qualifier in eighth, and rounded out the year in 12th at the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Games. The weights were heavier, the movements were harder — andt her fitness far greater than it was a decade ago.
"It has taken 10 years to become an overnight sensation," Miller’s husband, Jim, said..
Heading into the 2022 CrossFit Games season, Miller had high hopes of returning to the Games once again as a 66-year-old. She was training with CompTrain and felt even stronger than last year. She was confident after the 2022 Open, finishing in 33rd worldwide, and was excited to move on to the new Age-Group Quarterfinal and Semifinal stages.
But Miller didn't know that the 2022 Open would be her last competition of the season.
"It's not my life. This is my life."
Melanoma runs in the Miller family. Her daughter had a melanoma spot removed from her neck once before, so it was important for Miller to see a dermatologist every six months to monitor for any irregular moles.
In March 2022, just weeks after the close of the 2022 Open, Miller attended her regular checkup, where her doctor found a small mole on her back that had a speck of black on it. The doctor took a biopsy of the mark and sent it to the lab, while Miller waited nervously for several weeks learn whether it was cancerous.
When she finally received a phone call from the dermatologist's office on April 7, 2022, the news was frightful.
"It came back that this is highly aggressive, and they said, 'We have to take it off, and we have to take it off now,'" Miller said. "And just like breast cancer, there are different degrees. Some people die within months. Some people just continue on with their lives."
Hanging up the phone, Miller had a big decision to make. She knew that the Age-Group Quarterfinal was approaching in just a matter of weeks, and the surgery would likely take her out of the 2022 season if she decided to go through with it prior to the competition.
Pushing the thought to the back of her mind for the day, Miller started to wind down for the night, reading the CrossFit Email of the Day before heading to bed, something she did every night.
Featured in that night's EOD was the story behind the benchmark workout Amanda. Amanda Miller was a 2009 CrossFit Games athlete diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma lymphatic cancer shortly after competing at the Games in Aromas, California.
"I just competed in the CF Games less than a year ago and now I'm dying," she wrote on March 9, 2010, in her blog.
Just over a month after writing those words, Amanda passed away. She was 24.
Amanda's story hit home. Miller knew she needed to get the mole removed as soon as possible, regardless of the impact on her 2022 season.
"CrossFit has been part of my life for 12 years now. But it's not my life. This is my life," Miller said.
Within 12 days, Miller was in surgery to remove the majority of the melanoma from her back. She was taken into a second surgery to remove the remainder on April 20, 2022.
The melanoma was near Miller's right shoulder blade, so she was restricted from lifting over 40 lb, stretching, and pulling movements for at least three weeks post-surgery, which would take her right into the Age-Group Quarterfinal. But this is not the end for Miller’s competitive career. She plans to continue her training as soon as she is healed and return to the Games as long as her body will allow.
"The mental strength it takes for you to quit your season — I have a barbell in my garage. I could just go pick up right now," Miller said. "But with age comes wisdom. … I'm so thankful that (CrossFit) shared (Amanda's) story. That really hit home for me that yes, CrossFit is a large part of my life, but it's not my life."