Profile: Pioneer senior Natalie Millman is chasing goals on & off the field

By Terry Jacoby/

Natalie Millman carries a big stick and high expectations when she steps onto the turf with her Pioneer field hockey teammates. But she has a completely different “team” she also plays for, and this one goes way beyond scoring goals or winning games. And instead of a big stick, she carries a huge heart and even loftier goals when she steps onto the field representing team JDRF.

While winning a state title is the goal of the Pioneer field hockey team, a world without type 1 diabetes is the vision of JDRF, the leading global organization funding type 1 diabetes (T1D) research.

Millman was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 4.

“My family and I entered a team one year in the One Walk event to raise money for JDRF research and from that experience, a representative from the JDRF asked if I would be interested in becoming a Youth Ambassador,” says Millman, a senior at Pioneer. As a Youth Ambassador, she provides volunteer assistance for JDRF fundraisers, mentoring for younger type 1 diabetics, and serves as a speaker telling her story at JDRF-sponsored events.

“The technological advances funded in large part by the JDRF have changed my life dramatically,” she says. “When I was first diagnosed, a typical day included 4-6 insulin injections and 10 or more finger pricks to check blood sugar. Today, I wear an insulin pump and a CGM (continuous glucose monitor) and I very seldom need either injections or finger pricks.”

To help raise awareness and funds for JDRF (, Millman is hosting a free field hockey mini-camp, on Sept. 10-11 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., at Angell Elementary School. The camp is open to all kids in grades 2-6 with no experience necessary. Sticks will be available for players to use if they do not have one.  While there is no charge for the event, they will be accepting tax-exempt donations to the JDRF.

While her first experiences in hockey were on ice, Millman discovered the other hockey in fourth grade when she joined a Rec & Ed field hockey team. “I found there were a lot of transferable skills from ice hockey to field hockey, and I picked up the game pretty quickly,” she remembers. “Up until last season, I continued to play both ice hockey and field hockey at a competitive level. I love how field hockey requires mastery of challenging technical skills, strong physical conditioning, and a dedication to unselfish team play.”

It’s that “dedication to unselfish team play” that has made the Pioneer field hockey team the standard for decades. The program is entering its 43rd year of competition and has a “field” of state titles

“Coach Jane Nixon has built a culture of excellence that is passed on from one team to the next,” says Millman. “Each of us who represents PFH understands that we have a proud tradition to uphold and we take that role seriously.”

Pioneer went undefeated last year in the regular season but lost a hard-fought battle with Skyline in overtime in the state championship game. Millman was named First Team All-State, and All-State Dream Team.

“We have a lot of new faces this year,” says Millman, who also plays for Coach Nancy Cox and her club Pinnacle Field Hockey. “Ten seniors graduated from last season’s team so we will be relying on a number of talented but younger players. Our goal this year, as it is every year, is to win a State Championship.  It will certainly not be an easy task, but with continued hard work and dedication I truly believe this team will be playing its best field hockey at the end of the year.”

Natalie, 17, is the daughter of Darren and Karen Millman. She has a 4.0 GPA and is a member of Operation Club Smile, National Honors Society, and DECA

Pioneer Assistant Coach Katie Morris Valle (right, with Natalie) also is Millman’s personal skills coach and mentor. Morris Valle is Pioneer’s all-time leading scorer who played at Michigan and who also was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child.

“Since the time I met Katie when I was in fifth grade, she has always been a role model for me serving as an example that T1D does not mean you cannot achieve your goals,” Millman said. “Katie wore No. 14 while at Pioneer and later at Michigan, and for that reason, I too wear No. 14 at Pioneer. I actually have one of Katie’s No. 14 Michigan jerseys hanging up in my room.”

Millman will have another Michigan jersey hanging in her room next year, but with her name on it.

“I began attending camp at the University of Michigan with Coach Marcia Pankratz in fifth grade,” she said. “I remember being in awe of the Michigan players and the setting at Ocker Field! It was a dream at the time that one day I would have the same opportunity, so when that opportunity presented itself last Fall, it was an easy decision for me.

“In addition to being one of the world’s best academic institutions, Michigan Field Hockey is always one of the top programs in the country. To be able to attend a school as great as Michigan, and compete for Big Ten and National Championships is very exciting!”

Here is a link where people may sign up for the camp and make a donation to JDRF: Field Hockey Mini-Camp

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