Marathon runner Brett Miller

Brett Miller had been running off and on for a couple of years. He started running when he discovered that he weighed over 300 pounds and knew that he had to make some changes in his life. He signed up for and completed a 5k, a 10k, and a 10 mile race over the course of five months. As he ran and adopted a healthier lifestyle, he lost 50 pounds. Brett was on his way towards achieving his health and fitness goals when his family got hit a devastating blow. In July of 2013, Brett’s father, Bill, was diagnosed with Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer.

Brett Miller with his father, Bill.
Brett Miller with his father, Bill.
Bill surrounded by his loving family.
Bill surrounded by his loving family.

Brett’s father was an auto mechanic who loved cars and loved working with his hands. Brett describes Bill Miller as the kind of man who always had a smile on his face, and who would do anything to help others. When Bill received his diagnosis, a single tear ran down his face. Brett wiped Bill’s tear away and said, “We’ll get through this.” The family felt very positive that Bill would respond well to his chemotherapy treatments. Another crushing blow came on November 11th, which also happened to be Bill’s birthday. This time they received the news that the treatments were not working and there was nothing more the doctors could do. The family was brought into hospice and enjoyed every moment of the next two months. On January 5th, 2014, Bill passed away at home, surrounded by his loved ones.

The Miller family surrounds Bill for a New Year's celebration, days before Bill's passing.
The Miller family on New Year’s eve, just days before Bill passed away.

During the time of his father’s illness, Brett’s running fell by the wayside. Brett had wanted to spend every moment he could by his father and running seemed relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Brett’s weight crept back up to where it had been prior to when he took up running.  After his father’s passing, Brett was grieving and he had little motivation to do much of anything, let alone go out for a run. However, he soon decided that perhaps running was exactly what he needed to do. When Brett returned to his training routine, he found that running was a great way to help him clear his head.

One of Brett’s colleagues had run the Chicago Marathon previously on behalf of a charity. She told Brett what an amazing experience it was and encouraged him to sign up and run the marathon on behalf of a charity also. Brett laughed her suggestion off. Brett’s colleague’s words must have resonated somewhere in his mind. Brett looked at the Chicago Marathon website, and as he scrolled through the list of charities that would be represented at the Chicago Marathon, he saw Project Purple, whose motto is “Running to Beat Pancreatic Cancer”. As Brett explains, “There are not too many moments in life where God slaps you upside the head with this obvious of a sign.” So Brett signed up to run the Chicago Marathon for Project Purple.  Brett says, “After experiencing the emotional effects of seeing a family member die from Pancreatic Cancer, I wanted to get the word out there about the disease. I noticed that, because of the mortality rate, no one wants to acknowledge this cancer. The only way to fund the science behind a cure is to get the word out and acknowledge that there is a low survival rate right now.” By running for Project Purple, Brett was hoping to help bring about change by doing his part to encourage education and better funding for Pancreatic Cancer research.

Once Brett was committed to running the marathon, he had to begin training in earnest. Brett is a school Principal and he found the time commitment involved in marathon training to be challenging. However, Brett discovered that carving out the time to get in his long runs allowed him to reflect upon his father’s life and their relationship with one another. Going on those long runs allowed him to process and deal with the vitriol he was harboring at losing his father to Pancreatic Cancer. As he came to grips with what his family had been through, Brett adopted the mantra, “Don’t cry because it is over; smile because it happened.”

Though it was difficult for Brett to balance his demanding job as a school principal with his marathon training, it was through his work that he found some of his most ardent supporters. The students and staff at Brett’s school wore purple the day before he left to run the Chicago Marathon and changed the school sign to wish Brett luck at the race.

Students at Brett's school dressed in purple to support his marathon.
Students at Brett’s school dressed in purple to support his marathon.

Though the training was a challenge, Brett’s Chicago Marathon experience was “AWESOME!” Brett felt great while running, powered along by the throngs of incredibly supportive, cheering spectators. He had people cheering him on who did not know him and who he would never see again. He loved seeing the signs and having support along the course from thousands of people lining the streets. Brett says that his favorite sign read, “After all the hours and miles of training, enjoy your victory lap!” Brett feels that his race was indeed a victory lap, not only for him but also for his dad and his entire family.


Towards the end of any marathon, the miles become tougher. At around mile 22, Brett sent a text to his wife Alicia and told her, “The wheels are coming off, baby.” Alicia responded, “You can do it. We love you.” For the next two miles, Brett alternated running and walking. Alicia had put a picture of Brett’s dad into his pocket for support. Having that picture helped Brett keep pushing even when he felt like he could not continue any further.


As Brett closed in on the marathon finish line, he felt an incredible emotional high. He had the support of his wife and kids, and in those closing miles, he experienced a release of all of the anger he had been holding onto over his father’s death. Many times he had thought, “Why did God let this happen to me?” But as he approached the finish line, those thoughts slipped away from his body. He no longer felt pain or sorrow. He was able to release the negative emotions and thoughts and finally move forward. It was at that moment that the tears started. His tears were a combination of joy and sorrow and they were the best tears of his entire life.

Brett with members of his family, celebrating at the marathon finish.
Brett with members of his family, celebrating at the marathon finish.
Brett and his family celebrating his Chicago marathon finish.
Brett and his family celebrating his Chicago marathon finish.

When asked how it felt to run for Project Purple, Brett responded that it felt oddly selfish. Brett explained, “I am not supposed to gain anything from doing charitable work, but running for Project Purple, collecting donations, and wearing the gear allowed me to talk about my experiences with this disease. I was able to hear how my story inspired someone else to do something amazing. I was able to help people who were battling the same disease. But most importantly, I was able to talk about my dad with all the amazing people I have met along the way. Everything happens for a reason. We just don’t know what that reason is.” Out of his tragic loss, Brett was able to help others and find some peace find by running the Chicago Marathon for Project Purple.

Support Brett Miller’s fundraiser at the following link:

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