Millie Mae Strong: Marine Father Competes in Honor of Daughter’s Memory

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U.S. Marine Corps Capt. John Watkins, the battery commander of Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, and his family celebrate his finish at the 2018 Ironman 70.3 Oceanside Triathlon in Oceanside, Calif., April 7, 2018. Watkins competed in the event to honor the memory of his daughter, Amelia or “Millie,” who passed away from neuroblastoma in June 2017. “Before she died, my wife and I promised her we would do big things in her name,” said Watkins. “She will never be forgotten.” (Courtesy photo)

By Lance Cpl. Haley McMenamin | Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton | April 16, 2018
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. —
In the summer of 2017, Marine Capt. John Watkins, a native of Chandler, Arizona, his wife Jayshree, their son, Kaden, and daughter, Amelia or “Millie,” set out for their new home in California from Virginia. Unfortunately for the Watkins family, little Millie, with her bright blue eyes and infectious smile, never made it the entire way.

During their travels, Watkins and his wife noticed that Millie wasn’t feeling well. They made it to Arizona and took her to Phoenix Children’s Hospital where they discovered that she had stage four neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is a highly aggressive form of cancer and the third most common cancer linked to children. Each year, hundreds of children, mostly under the age of one, are diagnosed with the disease.

After undergoing five days of chemotherapy and kidney dialysis, her body could not handle the extensive treatment and days later, 10-month old Amelia passed away.

“Before she died, my wife and I promised her we would do big things in her name,” said Watkins. “She will never be forgotten.”

Watkins had always wanted to participate in an Ironman, but always came up with an excuse to not compete in one.

“This time, I couldn’t make any excuses,” said Watkins. “It provided me an outlet to deal with my daughter’s death in a positive way.

As battery commander for Bravo Battery, 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Watkins decided to compete in his daughter’s honor during the 2018 Ironman 70.3 Oceanside Triathlon which took place on April 7, 2018. By completing this Ironman, Watkins was to be able to raise awareness and money to help find a cure for the disease that claimed Millie’s life at such an early age.

Millie’s mom anxiously watched the race from the sidelines as her husband completed the competition.

“I am incredibly proud of him,” said Jayshree. “The fact that he set such an amazing goal, put himself through so much training on top of his work and family load, and accomplished that goal with such strength blows me away.”

She added that seeing her husband compete in events like the Ironman, motivates her to accomplish goals she sets for herself.

Watkins and his wife are not the only members of the family keeping Millie’s memory alive though. Millie vicariously lives on through “Millie Bear,” a stuffed bear that her brother, Kaden, carries with him and similar to the one Millie had during her hospital stay.

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