“We don’t know where Otto learned that, probably from a cartoon or something,” said his dad, Devon Langhorst, the former University of Dayton football standout who’s now a Warrant Officer 1 in the U.S. Army and a newly-minted Black Hawk helicopter pilot currently stationed at Fort Rucker in Alabama.
“Every day with him there’s something. He’s full of surprises.”
And that means he must take after his mom.
Chantae is hoping to pull off a surprise of her own in a couple of months, just as she did nine years ago at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Back then she was a heptathlete coming off surgery for a torn patellar tendon in her left knee a few months earlier.
Just 23, she had no sponsors and had never competed internationally.
“Most people had written her off back then,” Devon said.
But at the Trials she turned in personal best efforts in five of the heptathlon’s seven events – the 100 meter hurdles, 200 meter dash, shot put, javelin and 800 meter run – and finished third in the competition.
That won her a berth on the U.S. team headed to the Olympic Games in London.
Although she would slowed by the flu during that competition and finish 29th, she still made a name for herself and it continued to grow in the years to come.
In 2015 she was featured on the cover of the ESPN Body Issue that portrayed athletes in strategic and artistic nude photos.
Last May she starred in The Titan Games, the NBC-televised, sports competition reality series hosted by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
After her beloved dad – Army veteran Badger McMillan – died unexpectedly after an appendix surgery in August of 2015, she failed to advance in the Olympic Trials several months later and wasn’t part of the U.S. team that competed in the 2016 Games in Brazil.
Undaunted, she’s back for another try, this time competing in the javelin throw, not the heptathlon.
Former Olympian Chantae McMillan, who has switched events from the heptathlon to the javelin throw in an effort to make the U.S. Olympic team headed to the Tokyo Games this summer, with UD throws coach Kevin Gilhuly, who now serves a her personal coach, as well. (Photo by Tom Archdeacon)
She’s currently training with the University of Dayton athletes – especially star javelin thrower Casey Bogues – at the Flyers’ track facility behind Woerner Field, just west of UD Arena. She’s mentored by UD assistant coach Kevin Gilhuly, who now serves as her personal coach.
She’s also being closely watched by Otto, who comes to many workouts and often joins in on stretching exercises unless he’s busy picking up rocks, looking for worms or keeping a keen eye on the nearby Interstate 75 traffic, hoping to spot passing dump trucks, semis and school busses.
“In a sense, Chantae’s effort now is kind of similar to the way it was for her in 2012,” Devon said. “This time though she’s going from birthing our son to rebuilding her body and figuring out the technical aspects of the javelin.”
People have likely written her off again.
She gained 30 pounds when she was pregnant. And in what would have been a critical year of familiarizing herself with her new event, new coach and newly-reclaimed body, she instead saw almost all track and field competitions shut down until recently because of the COVID 19 pandemic.
But Chantae McMillan is not your typical athlete.
Before COVID hit, she competed in the javelin five months into her pregnancy. And just days before giving birth, she still was running stairs to keep in shape.
Five months after Otto was born, she not only was back training vigorously, but said she was “the leanest I’d ever been.”
Today – two months before the Trials take place in Eugene, Oregon – she is using the past as prelude.
“I know what it’s like to compete with the best athletes in the world and I understand what it takes to get there,” she said. “That’s kind of the blueprint that I keep in the back of my mind.
“I know how I got to the 2012 Olympics and I’m using that to evolve now.”
High school, college standout
Peggy and Badger McMillan both had Army careers.
She was with military police before becoming a registered nurse. He was a supply sergeant.
Chantae was the couple’s only child and, though the family was stationed across the South, they finally settled in Rolla, Missouri.
A two-time state long jump champion and Nike All American for Rolla High, Chantae is now enshrined in the school’s hall of fame.
At the University of Nebraska, she became a five-time All American, four-time Big 12 Conference champion and was the 2011 NCAA indoor pentathlon runner up.
That year she suffered the torn patellar tendon during a competition in San Diego. She underwent surgery and rehabbed in Pittsburgh before moving to the Dayton area, where 2008 Olympic heptathlon silver medalist Hyleas Fountain had trained with Lynn Smith, the former Yellow Springs athlete, Central State coach and Kettering-based trainer.
At the same time Langhorst was capping a stellar career as a UD defensive end. He would go on to play professionally in Italy and Switzerland, work as a substitute teacher and a football coach at his alma mater, Sidney High, and become involved in a sports performance and enhancement business
A few years ago Chantae and Devon met online.
“When I moved back here, I didn’t have any friends so I downloaded the Tinder app because a friend in Missouri had told me about it,” Chantae said.
“I got some free dinners and movies out of it,” she laughed. “But once I met Devon, I was like, ‘OK, time to delete the app.’”
They quickly hit it off. Both were athletes and, in fact, in 2017 Chantae was toying with the idea of the Winter Olympics.
“I took a little detour into the bobsled, but I ended up not liking it that much because of the concussions involved,” she said. “Every time you go, you’re being jarred around. I’m pretty sure I ended up with a concussion.”
The couple married in the spring of 2018 and Otto was born in the fall.
That year Devon began to rethink a career in the military, something he first spoke about when he was a Flyers’ football player.
Brandon Wingeier, a former Flyers teammate who’d joined the Army after his UD career ended, told him about a select Army flight school program. He spoke to Peggy about her military experiences and soon enlisted.
Earlier this month, some three years in the making, he graduated from flight school.
In June he’s scheduled to begin a new assignment with a VIP Transport Unit at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, near Washington, D.C. He said one primary assignment will be “flying high-ranking civilians and military personnel” around the D.C. area.
In the meantime, Chantae and Otto – who had stayed with Peggy in Rolla while Devon was in basic training and then moved to Fort Rucker – are living in Troy at a place owned by Devon’s parents.
Former Olympian Chantae McMillan and her 2 ½ year old son Otto before her training session at the University of Dayton track a few days ago. (Photo by Tom Archdeacon)
“I like being a mom and really, I can’t wait to expand our family,” Chantae said. “I was an only child and Devon has just one brother. I’ve dreamed of having a bigger family, so now I’m like, ‘We’re having at least four kids!’
“Being a mom has changed my mindset. And at this point, Otto can talk and I feel like I’m living with a friend rather than just being his parent.” Asked about her favorite time with Otto, she started to laugh and finally said:
“When he’s taking a nap!”
She quickly shook her head and smiled: “No, I’m just kidding. I just enjoy watching him learn and come alive and stuff. He’s a real legit boy now. He’s into dinosaurs and rocks and trucks. And after training we come home and he rides his bike as we walk the dog.” Last Tuesday Peggy drove in from Rolla to help babysit while her daughter steps up training.
Chantae’s been competing at meets with the UD team this spring and last weekend she threw her all-time best in the javelin (52 meters) at an Indiana State meet. Saturday she hoped to continue to improve at a Miami University meet.
Since taking over her training in February, Gilhuly has completely revamped Chantae’s technique and thinking and after some bumpy early adjustments – there were some “bad days” and “tears” Chantae admitted – she’s making noticeable improvements each week now.
Gilhuly figures she’ll quickly make the 54 meter standard for the U.S. Trials and then set her sights on the 61 meter mark required for the Olympics.
As she works toward that, she said she’s using an important thing she’s leaned with Otto.
“Being a mom, I’ve learned patience,” she said. “And that really carries over to my training now.”
The sudden death of her 64-year-old father really got to Chantae.
Her dad was her pal. As a little girl she used to try to do pushups alongside him as he worked on his PT. The two fished together and shot off fireworks on the Fourth of July and he and her mom were in the stands for all of her track meets.
She has various tattoos on her body commemorating her dad, the most recent being a pair of blooming peonies that cover the back of her right hand and forearm.
Her maternal grandmother had peony bushes and gave some of the bulbs to her dad, who then planted them around their house.
“I remember my dad cutting some of them every Mother’s Day because they were about to bloom.” Chantae said. “That became meaningful to me. Now when I look at that tattoo, I think of him.” “She thinks about her dad on a daily basis,” Devon said. “She’s got several things that keep him in her mind. She carries one of his hats in her vehicle and birds are something she sees that give her strength and remind her of her dad.”
Chantae McMillan with the peonies tattooed on her arm as a reminder of her late father, Badger McMillan – an Army veteran and ardent supporter of his daughter – who favored the old-time flowers and always cut some they had at their home in Missouri for a Mother’s Day bouquet. The circular button near her wrist is for acupuncture treatments. (Photo by Tom Archdeacon)
Chantae said that just happened the other day at the UD track.
“My coach and training partners had already left,” she said. “It was just my son and me and my dad came and saw us. It was as an eagle, just flying above us and hanging out. And I was like, ‘Hey, I see you!’” And if her dad is looking down, he has to like what he sees in her life.
Peggy said Devon “couldn’t be a better son-in-law.” And she said Chantae has become “an awesome mom.”
At the track, she draws the praise of the UD athletes, especially Bogues:
“She’s definitely good for me. Having her here and the mentality she brings and the example she sets, it has increased the intensity of our practice. And it’s increased my performances. When you have a former Olympian running next to you, you have to step it up. She’s just so tough, so strong mentally.
“She’s been good for all of us here.”
Former Olympian Chantae McMillan (on right), who has switched events from the heptathlon to the javelin throw in an effort to make the U.S. Olympic team headed to the Tokyo Games this summer, with her training partner, University Dayton sophomore standout Casey Bogues, who has now broken the UD record in the javelin throw for the past three meets in a row this season. (Photo by Tom Archdeacon)
Peggy said something similar as she watched her daughter begin her workout the other day:
“I told her: ‘You’ve provided me with so many adventures over the years. There are so many things I never would have done or experienced if it weren’t for you.’” There have been all the championship performances while at Rolla High and Nebraska. There were trips to Italy and Germany and, of course, the London Olympics. And there was the communal buzz and fanfare that came with the ESPN “Body” cover and the nationally-televised Titan Games.
“Thanks to her, I’ve gotten to be there for some pretty interesting things that I won’t forget,” Peggy said.
And one of the best came last Thursday evening when Otto stepped outside, looked up at the moon and, in that little boy voice, just howled away: