UPDATE: Millage captures gold

UPDATE: Millage captures gold

UPDATE: The U.S. beat China 25-12, 25-12, 25-18 on Saturday night in the gold-medal sitting volleyball match at the Paralympics.

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Julie Cox was going to go to Memorial Stadium to see the Illinois football team mix it up with Western Michigan today. Then plans changed.

“I’ve got plenty more of those I can go to,” Cox said.

Instead, Cox plans to hover over a laptop computer at her Champaign home with family and friends to watch the Paralympics gold medal sitting volleyball match between Team USA and China, scheduled for a late-afternoon start. Nichole Millage, a Centennial graduate and City of Champaign employee, is Cox’s niece and a member of the U.S. team.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, plus it could be Nichole’s last game,” Cox said.

Millage and former Illinois student Kari Miller, also a member of the U.S. sitting volleyball team, are among a handful of athletes with area ties to bring home medals from the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Local track and field athletes have won 13 medals, including UI student Raymond Martin winning gold in the 400 meters and the 1,500 and graduate Tatyana McFadden winning gold in the 400, 1,500 and 5,000. UI alums Gail Gang and Christina Schwab along with graduate student Megan Blunk were part of the gold-medal-winning U.S. wheelchair women’s basketball team coached by the UI’s Stephanie Wheeler. Former Illinois student Dylan Alcott won the gold medal in men’s tennis representing Australia.

Coverage of sitting volleyball was hard to come by during the early stages of the Games. A friend in Rio tried to use Facebook Live video to send a feed to those interested back home, but it wasn’t the greatest quality. But during Thursday’s semifinal match against Brazil, Cox, joined by her husband, daughter and daughter’s boyfriend, were able to watch a clean feed via TeamUSA.org online, complete with commentary.

Other fans of Millage watched and the groups engaged in electronic conversation throughout.

“We’re all texting each other and Facebook messaging saying ‘Oh, my God, did you see that?’ ” Cox said.

During the competition, Millage’s following has continued to grow, thanks in large part to information being shared via social media.

“Facebook has been blowing up with stuff. It’s been constant, everything has been all about this,” Cox said. “It’s great that it’s getting the attention and people who never know anything about this are asking questions. It’s neat to see that people are aware of this.”

The Rio Games marked the third Paralympics appearance for Millage, who helped the U.S. win silver medals in Beijing (2008) and London (2012). On Tuesday, Millage is scheduled to return to Willard Airport from Rio, where she was accompanied by her mom, Philomena Schnepper, and stepdad, David Schnepper, as well as childhood friend Stephanie Foster.

“We’re hoping to get a big group there,” Cox said. “We’re so proud of her and hoping to give her a good welcome home.”

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