“I’ve gone a bit shorter, I have gone to a 7’10”, slightly thinner at 23 wide inches and just 3 inches thick,” says Barney Miller, excitedly, about his new Darren Handley shaped surfboard. “It’s also a quad fin, so it is so manouevreable. I’m now doing close-out reentries and floaters.”
Now this wouldn’t be that newsworthy, just another excited surfer with a new board, except for the fact that just over 15 years ago Miller, then a 19-year-old promising surfer from the mid-north coast of NSW suffered a motor vehicle accident, airlifted to a Sydney hospital and pronounced D.O.A. After a massive fight, Barney survived the ordeal to be left with facing the news that he was a quadriplegic.
Since the accident Miller has set about disproving the limitations that various doctors said would be a part of his diagnosis. “The damage affected my breathing and initially I was on a ventilator and was told I’d be on that for the rest of my life,” says Barney. “And I was like, ‘fuck that, I’m not going everywhere with a machine, and I told them to take it out. The first time I lasted five seconds and freaked. Two months later I lasted two weeks and haven’t used one since.”
He was also told he would have no use of him right arm, which he now boasts is his strongest. Surfing was obviously ruled out, and yet Barney can chalk up Sunset, Pipe and the Superbank as just a few of his conquests, often aided by his mates that just happen to be some of the best surfers in the world.
However it was the often repeated claim that he would never walk again that Miller now has in sights. Through Project Walk, a Californian based spinal cord injury (SCI) rehabilitation program, Barney is making, well, small steps on the way to small steps.
“It’s a repetitive exercise based training program with exercises that are related to the same movement patterns that occur during human development,’’ says Miller. “So you actually are learning what babies need to learn when they start walking. It’s about find pathways in the nervous system around the damaged areas in my neck.”
Miller did his first three month stint at Project Walk, traveling from Australia in 2009 and with significant improvement came back the next year. “After 2010 we decided that three months wasn’t enough, you know I just had to do more, so for the last two years we have done six month stints and the results have been amazing.”
During the Trestles’ Hurley Pro Barney’s mate Mick Fanning dropped by Project Walk and having known Barney for over a decade was truly amazed when Barney could stand next to him for a photo. “It was pretty emotional for me,” Mick told grindtv.com, “To stand shoulder to shoulder with Barney, to see him on his own two feet, blew me away. You think you face challenges on your own life, and then you see what Barney has done. It blew me away.”
“I can stand now, my body and legs feel alive,” explains Miller. “I can stand with my fiancee Kate and for things like getting out of bed and in and out of the car that helps so much. I also have a walker that has wheels, and so I put all my weight onto my front foot and start to drag it through and the train brings it through. So I am just doing laps of the facility, and that is just amazing, it is so crazy, it’s hard to describe.”
Barney has been setting himself targets, but has one major goal to achieve. “I’m getting married to Kate in 2015 and I want to dance at my wedding. That’s the plan.”
That might also be the dramatic finale to a current feature film being made on his life titled No Means Go, due for release in 2015. In the meantime Barney is dropping webisodes, first one above. Other than that he is doing three hours a day, four days a week working his arse off, and decompressing with his surf sessions. “Surfing helps me so much. Surfing has saved me, with all the hard work and all the other shit going on, if I didn’t have surfing, I’d combust.”