As a competitive gymnast, 12-year-old Sawyer Miller is used to feeling disoriented after spinning and jumping. But he knew something was wrong two years ago when he still felt dizzy after practice.

The Bend boy had a hard time remembering his gymnastic routines. He told his parents it felt like he had a pingpong ball in his head. His parents thought their son might be suffering from vertigo.

But the feeling in his brain turned out to be a cancerous egg-sized tumor, which doctors at OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland successfully removed in December 2017.

Sawyer is in remission following several radiation treatments. He makes periodic trips back to the children’s hospital for checkups. After every clean scan of his brain, Sawyer celebrates as only a child can.

“After they give us the news,” Sawyer said, “I go out in the hall and I do a handstand.”

Sawyer now has another reason to celebrate. He is one of six patients at the children’s hospital recently selected to design specialized Nike shoes and apparel through the hospital’s Doernbecher Freestyle program.

The program allows the children to work side by side with Nike designers and brainstorm ideas to create new Nike products. The children’s designs will be revealed at an auction Nov. 8 at the Portland State University Viking Pavilion.

Not surprisingly, the gymnast in Sawyer influenced his idea.

“I asked for a shoe that I could dance in, I could flip in and move around in,” he said.

Since the program started in 2004, nearly $24 million has been raised to benefit the children’s hospital through the auction and sales at Nike stores.

Patients at the children’s hospital have to be nominated for the program.

Nathan Selden, the pediatric neurosurgeon who nominated Sawyer, described the boy as intelligent, thoughtful and creative. He believes Sawyer will use his passion for the outdoors, playing golf and doing gymnastics to help guide how he designs the shoe.

“He’s an amazingly creative person, and he wants to use the shoe he makes for a lot of the activities he does,” Selden said. “I can’t wait to see what Sawyer brings us.”

Sawyer will have an advantage at the November auction. He was in attendance at the auction last year, and his family bought a pair of shoes designed by one of the other children.

The experience of being at the auction and seeing the other children present their designs gave Sawyer confidence for his chance this November. But speaking in public is still a bit intimidating, he said.

“I am kind of nervous to get up in front of people and talk,” he said.

The event in November will represent a special moment for Sawyer, his parents Casey and Shiley Miller and his three siblings, including his twin brother, Finn.

The past two years have been a challenging time for the family, with regular trips back and forth between Bend and Portland.

By February 2018, Sawyer had 30 rounds of radiation. His parents took turns staying with him at the hospital. Since then, Miller has only had to return to the children’s hospital every few months.

“We are super happy,” Shiley Miller said. “He doesn’t go back for another five months.”

Sawyer and his family are not sharing the specific details of his design until it’s revealed at the November auction. But the design will incorporate the support Sawyer has felt since his diagnosis two years ago, his mother said.

“The shoe will tell the story of the support he had from the community in Bend,” she said. “We had lots of support.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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