A Trailblazer Rabbit in the Long Run
By Gordon Pynes
In any endeavor there has to be someone to start and lead the way in being the first to do so. Martin Miller was definitely a trailblazer for Atlanta High School Athletics. Running for the Rabbs in the late 1960’s and early 70’s he brought Atlanta High its very first State Champion in an individual track event. After more than 40 years of competing in UIL track the Rabbits finally had a champion as Martin won the mile run at Austin in the 1970 State Track Meet. He enjoyed the success so much that he came back in 1971 to win gold in the mile again. Eighteen years would pass until another Rabb would be a State Track Champion in 1989. Many Runnin’ Rabbs have since earned gold following in Miller’s lead atop the State victory stand.
Martin probably ran thousands of miles in his lifetime but it all started on the streets and roads of Atlanta and Cass County in his early teens. As his Dad owned a motorcycle shop in Texarkana he could easily have ridden a cycle around. However, he chose to run and run. Maybe his first notice as a distance runner happened as a result of an accident during a Boy Scout campout. A fellow scout was injured and Martin ran several miles into town to get medical help. As a Rabbit freshman he met Roger Sessions, a young new coach at Atlanta High. The two bonded and Martin was off to the races. Running the mile he won the District mile title all four years in high school competition. He took the Regional title three times and qualified four times for the State Meet. That is a rare feat and I’m not aware of any Atlanta trackster matching that in a four- year career.
Miller’s success did not come easy as he put in a tremendous amount of work during those high school days. Somehow, he found time to play football and basketball earning All-District honors. Fellow teammate Barron Christensen, described Martin as fun loving but serious in his approach to workouts. Martin was prone to start a workout by exclaiming “Let’s go hurt” and he led the way. According to Christensen, Miller had a positive attitude and always felt he would win. Certainly, he knew his workouts were both of quantity and quality. He ran to school in the mornings, did the track workout in the afternoon and ran some more later in the evening. Many times he would run to Linden for a workout and then catch a ride back to Atlanta.
Another teammate, Bogie Price, lauded Miller as a master of race pace which is vital to a distance runner. Coach Sessions had worked hard to implant this sense of pace. Martin set the Atlanta School record for the mile in 1971 with a time of 4:15.7 which stood for 42 years until Chris Ibarra broke it with 4:12.6 in 2013. However, you might put an asterisk by that as Ibarra ran 1600 meters which is 9 yards shorter than the mile. During the early 1970’s State Cross Country was not fully organized but Martin ran in one race billed as the State Meet. He ran second on a course along Town Lake in Austin. The two mile race (now 3200 meters) was also not on the boys high school track format back then. That may well have been his best race as his college races proved.
Southern Methodist University (SMU) recruited Martin and he was immediately successful with the Pony track team. During his freshman and sophomore Cross Country seasons he finished fourth at the Southwest Conference meet. On the track he blazed a 8:32 two mile indoors at a meet held in the Astrodome. Running in the three mile he ran 14 minutes. During his junior year at SMU he suffered a pinched nerve in his back and was found to have one leg slightly shorter than the other. This injury served to end his college track career.
Upon completion of college, Martin joined the Army and became a military policeman which fit his college study of criminal justice. Then after discharge he enrolled at Texas Tech and earned an MBA degree. Then it was on to Baylor Law School and a law degree. For the rest of his life Miller served as an Assistant District Attorney in Dallas and was a criminal attorney for a private law firm.
His love for running and track continued. According to his wife Joan, Martin loved to run marathons and set a goal to run one in all 50 states. He ran in some ten major marathons before an achilles injury suffered in a Las Vegas run ended his quest. Joan waited at the finish line for most of those 26 plus miles with refreshment after the several hour effort.
Boyhood friend James Joslin, traveled with Martin during his Army years in Europe. Joslin said Martin always attended the State Track meet and followed Rabbit track through the years. I met Martin only once at one of our Rabbit track competitions. It was easy to tell his love for the sport and the dedication he had given it. The Atlanta Educational Foundation honored Miller as a Distinguished Alumni in 2013. He passed away in late 2019. As the Rabbit trailblazer to that first gold track medal Martin Miller is most deserving of taking his place in the Atlanta Athletics Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2022.