He is everywhere. On the cover of Time and Newsweek this week. And everyone is asking: What about that Bode?
Love him or roll your eyes with abandon. Miller is the greatest American skier in a generation – wildly gifted, dazzling to watch. He could win multiple gold medals. He could also crash and burn. Because Miller doesn’t ski for medals. He skis to go faster, to find the perfect run. He skis on the edge. It often amounts to missing gates, to crashes, to DNFs (did not finish).
Miller was born and raised in the woods around Franconia, N.H. – just over the line in Easton, N.H., to be exact – his parents choosing a lifestyle that would foster independence and free thinking. He was raised without electricity or running water, and roamed the forest freely. Get that, and you’re one step closer to understanding Bode Miller. ( Please click “more” for rest of story and pics)
Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun – his autobiography with details of his off-grid upbringing – buy it from Amazon – $15.72
He won silver in the combined and giant slalom in 2002. A star was born. He went on the Today Show and was a guest on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
Still, he kept searching for ways to ski faster. He started skiing all five disciplines on the World Cup circuit – a move that allowed him to dominate and win the 2005 overall World Cup title, his ultimate goal.
He became a massive celebrity in Europe. Fans stalked his RV, the mobile home he lives in while across the pond, that’s driven by a childhood friend who also cooks for Miller.
Bode Miller’s mother, Jo Miller, still splits her own wood to heat her house.
Jo Miller doesn’t think it was tough living. “No, I think it was fun. I mean, it was a challenge. And I guess that’s where Bode sort of picked up the, you know, the idea of needing a challenge always in his life.”
Bode Miller showed 60 Minutes how challenging it was just getting up and down that mountain, or at least the getting up part, which was close to a mile hike through the woods.
There were no roads when he was a kid, but there were plenty of raspberries. He spent his days happily roaming these woods on his own.
“It’s nice to be able to spend time alone when you’re young,” he says. “Lets your imagination do all the stuff that imaginations are supposed to do.
And in the winter Miller would run to the outhouse, which is still there, but not to school because young Bode didn’t go to school. He was home-schooled until third grade. His classroom was the great outdoors.
Miller’s parents said that at one point they were making only $600 a year and that they were living on that.
“That might be optimistic,” Miller says. “That’s including inflation. That would be $600 a year now.”
He didn’t have money, but says he didn’t miss it. He also didn’t miss school. In fact, not being in school when he was little gave him more time to ski. He could barely afford skis but he had talent, and it did not go unnoticed. Right after high school, he got a spot on the U.S. Ski Team. His parents were behind his success, he says, because they pretty much ignored him.
“So many kids who become athletes are the product of parents who are pushing them every minute of the way, who went to every race and didn’t give them dinner if they came in second,” Simon said.
Miller says, “And usually those are the kids who burn out and end up being totally laid back, super counterculture hippies like when they’re in their 30s and 40s, the kids who are totally nuts and pushed. That’s sort of the opposite from me.”
Somewhere along the way, Miller grew increasingly disillusioned with the trappings of fame, the skiing establishment and the obligations that multiply with winning. At Colorado’s Beaver Creek earlier this winter, Miller explained in detail how agonizing it all became.
“When I was in my first couple of years on the World Cup I started to recognize pretty quickly I didn’t like the process that occurred when I won more races or had more success,” said Miller. “That has definitely been an accurate assessment. The further along I’ve gone it gets worse and worse. At some point you stop doing the things you want to do because there’s too many things you have to do.”
“I wear my emotions on my sleeve a lot,” Miller said earlier this season. “It takes a bit of courage to do it. It allows you to be open to criticism. But it’s important that people can understand where you’re coming from without hiding stuff.”
He skied onto the U.S. Alpine Team from Carrabassett Valley Academy at the base of Sugarloaf.
His unique skiing approach was in full form at CVA – think rodeo cowboy on skis. He crashed out of more races then he finished and didn’t get his diploma after butting heads with an English teacher over his final paper. (The school later awarded Miller a diploma.)
He is currently attending the Turin Winter Olympics in a camper van driven by a friend. He told journalists: The athletes village is really in a lot of ways for a competition not a healthy living environment. The beds are really small and uncomfortable. ”
I have a motor home here, I have my own food, my own bed, my own pillows. I am pretty much fully self-sufficient. I think in these big events keeping things as consistent as you can is very important.
He chronicles his time at CVA in his book “Bode: Go Fast. Be Good. Have Fun.”
The chapter is laced with lingering disdain for the discipline he received there, but it’s fair, says John Ritzo, CVA’s headmaster. Ritzo along with his wife Patty – a longtime friend of Bode’s mom Jo Miller – helped Bode attend CVA all those years ago.
He raced the technical events in his first several years on the U.S. Ski Team and entered the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics as an unknown to most sports fans.
The skiing world of course knew all about Miller. But there in the mountains of Utah, many became enchanted with his upbringing and his refreshingly candid take on the world. He has an opinion on everything and will usually speak with unbridled honesty.
American teammate Daron Rahlves – also a medal threat in the speed events – said the obligations are part of the job.
“You definitely have to go through a lot more when you’re successful. At big races, when you have success it’s nonstop,” said Rahlves. “In a way, to me, I just accept that. It’s kind of what it is. I’m not as much of a clasher as Bode is. I just kind of go through the motions, put up a front. If I’m tired or don’t want to be here, it’s important for me to try and stay positive. Genuinely deep down inside I love to ski. It’s why we’re up here.”
But for Miller – whose celebrity outweighs that of anyone on the U.S. team in decades – the process wore thin his motivation.
“You can think it’s nothing. For most people it doesn’t happen enough. But when someone says ‘Oh my God you’re going to have the best time today,’ that’s fine. If it happens once. If you don’t have a great time and someone keeps telling you over and over how psyched you must be, how lucky you are . . . after a while it wears thin,” said Miller. “You multiply that little phenomenon by a couple hundred thousand over 10 years it does steal a little of your motivation or your enthusiasm.”
And it nearly made him skip the 2006 Olympics.
The Olympic movement, he believes, has gotten away from the heart of sports, too focused on money and advertising. He agreed to commit this fall. But there’s no way he’ll stick around for 2010.
He made headlines with controversial comments about the International Ski Federation’s policy on doping. And his relationship with the U.S. Ski Team started to appear tense.
Then came the doozy, Miller’s interview with “60 Minutes.” He never used the word drunk, but said “There’s been times I’ve been in really tough shape at the top of the course.”
Four days later, flanked by his Uncle Mike, Miller apologized in a Swiss schoolroom.
“I want to come straight out and apologize to my family and friends and also the people who have supported me along the way,” Miller said. “Obviously the message that came through is not something that I would promote or that I’m about in any aspect of my sporting career.”
It was enough to repair some of the hurt felt up at CVA, where the phones rang for days leading up to Miller’s apology. And it showed some humility.
“The apology was a big deal. I don’t think that comes naturally to Bode. I’m very proud of him that he did,” said Ritzo. “Bode would probably be furious for me saying it, but I really think the pressure’s getting to him. You listen to what he’s been saying in the last couple of months. It’s been building. It’ll be interesting to see whether the “60 Minutes” thing has helped take some of the pressure off of him.
“What Bode showed with the apology was some humility.”
The apology also made his family proud, said Jo Miller.
“Very proud, super proud,” said Jo Miller.
She said her son does not call home as much as he used to, understandable because his friend and cousin are with him most of the time now and help ground him.
“He doesn’t ask for emotional support but it’s quite apparent he does better when he’s in contact with the family,” said Jo. “My brother, Mike, was over there for a week to help him through this latest eruption. He came back the other night and talked to me and Chelone (Bode’s brother) for a long time. He said it’s important that we all keep calling him.”
Jo will go to Turin with an extended family – Bode’s dad Woody, his sister Genny Wren and her boyfriend, Bode’s Uncle Mike and his girlfriend, and others. They rented three apartments in a small Alpine town.
Ritzo and the folks up at CVA will be rooting for their former racer.
They’ve seen his career blossom, crescendo and burst over the last couple of weeks.
And they have a window into the toll it has taken on the fiercely independent boy, now 28, who was just a kid when his life became prime-time fodder.
“What time has he had to reflect? This thing has been like a rocket ship,” said Ritzo. “I hope this incident will kind of help him get grounded again. What he’s achieving, these feats, they’re his. He’s the only one going out of the gate, the only one risking life and limb. But he isn’t completely alone. He’s a member of a team, he represents a country, and he represents CVA, whether he cares about that or not.”
Despite it all, Miller says he is happy still. It is difficult to wholly believe, judging his time with the media. His posture is bored, his eyes vacant, his words often monotone.
“If you guys were my family or friends, or (could) hang out with me while I was skiing down the race course you’d see an exceptionally happy person,” said Miller. “Those are the times that balance out times like this. Unfortunately you guys see me not at my best.”
But after an inspiring run, life seems to return to his expressions.
What the Italian Alps hold for Miller is anybody’s guess.
At the Olympics he will race all five events: downhill, super-G, slalom, giant slalom, and the combined.
He will ski nothing conservatively.
He will leave it all on the hill.
And he will make undoubtedly make headlines – gold medal or DNF.
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