After a year in which he battled back from a major knee injury, underwent a high-profile custody battle and mourned the death of his younger brother, Bode Miller will try to add to his Olympic legacy despite being one of the oldest skiers in the field in Sochi.
“A knee injury like I had is a pretty slow process, aside from the fact that I’ve been pretty rough on my body for [the] 17-plus years of my World Cup career,’’ Miller told Matt Lauer on TODAY Thursday. “I’m healthy enough that I’m skiing as hard as I can, but I definitely feel my age. I’ve been pushing pretty hard this season. I have a lot of extra work to do after taking last year away to heal the injury, so I’m trying to catch up to the young kids right now.”
With five Olympic medals, 33 individual World Cup victories and two World Cup titles, Miller, 36, is the most decorated U.S. skier of all time. He is also one of only five Olympic skiers in history to take home a medal in four different events. In Sochi, he will become the first U.S. skier to compete in five Olympics, where he looks to make an improbable run to the podium despite missing a year on the slopes following knee surgery in the spring of 2012.
“Anytime [in] the Olympics, anyone kind of knows anything outside of the medals is not really why you’re going there,’’ he said. “I think it is the performances I’m looking for, maybe a little different expectations this year — four years older, fifth Olympics. My knee is still, it is a liability, probably a lot of the things I’m dealing with right now are liabilities, so I do go in there with the intent to ski my best and try to inspire some people.”
Miller's recent trials have been personal as well as physical, including a very public custody battle with ex-girlfriend Sara McKenna, 27, over their infant son. The two came to a custody agreement last month in which they will both have equal time with the boy, whom McKenna calls Sam and Miller calls Nate.
Miller, who lives in California, filed a paternity suit for joint custody in the fall of 2012. He accused McKenna of moving to New York while she was still pregnant to seek a more sympathetic court system, while civil liberties groups argued that McKenna had the right to live wherever she wants. McKenna also filed for a restraining order against Miller's wife, Morgan Beck, for allegedly threatening tweets, which she denied making in an interview with Outside magazine.
“The real difficult part is anytime it’s family or things that are really personal, reading about them is one thing — reading about them when they’re not true or when they’re completely spun in one direction all the time and having to just accept that and not fight a public battle,'' Miller told Lauer. "Because that’s what the media really thrives on, is the back and forth of, ‘Well you said this,’ or, ‘This is true.' It was obviously the judges, who had all the information, came up with different decisions than the media did, and the reason is because the media only had a tiny portion of the story very twisted on one side.
“I’ve dealt with that several times before, but when it is family or when it’s about a small child who can’t really defend themselves or is going to have to deal with the repercussions of that in the future, that’s a really tough thing to deal with.”
But while Miller has endured his share of trying times over the past two years, there also has been a bright spot: He married Beck, a professional beach volleyball player, in October 2012.
“It keeps me busy, for sure,’’ Miller said. “It’s been great. Morgan is a great woman and she’s been able to travel around with me a lot. Being able to share the experiences of moving around the world and seeing all these great spots and training, it’s been an absolute pleasure.”
The couple have since had several emotional moments. Beck had a miscarriage last January, and endured a mishap in which Miller accidentally hooked a golf shot that struck her in the left eye, requiring more than 50 stitches and potentially causing permanent vision impairment, according to Outside magazine.
Miller and his family have also been rocked by the death of his younger brother, snowboarder Chelone “Chilly” Miller, who suffered a fatal seizure at in April 2013 at age 29. Chelone was hoping to join his brother as a member of Team USA in Sochi. His death came eight years after he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a dirt bike crash.
“It was a shock,’’ Miller said. “He had his head injury in 2006, and I took time after the ’06 Olympics that year; that was something that was overlooked about the ’06 Olympics. Starting in the fall in September, he was in a coma for a while. That really affected my process of preparing for the Olympics that year as well as all the other things that we all know about, and that was really difficult through the Olympics there.
“I took a little time off to spend with [Chelone] after the Olympics. It really changed our relationship, and I think gave me a new appreciation for who he was. Once he recovered from that injury, we sort of thought things were looking obviously good. He was snowboarding again, he had a 100 percent recovery, and then for something like that to happen, it just knocked us all on our asses pretty hard.”
While he is training for what is almost certainly his final Olympics, Miller also has an eye on the future. He is a partner in a company called The Grilled Cheese Truck, which provides opportunities for military veterans.
“It’s a pretty unique mobile food truck situation that we get veterans who are returning from their service either in Iraq or wherever they served, and we give them an opportunity to franchise into this grilled cheese truck company,’’ Miller said. “It’s a tough thing to see when guys come back from serving their country like that and don’t really have any career opportunities.
“They can barely find jobs to make minimum wage, and I think that was something that me and the other partners in the company felt like we had an opportunity to change. We’re now offering these turnkey opportunities to come in and use their skill set that they’ve developed over their time in the service and make high six figures a year, which I think is just a really cool, American kind of thing to do.”