Bode Miller: Off-Grid role model

Bode Miller
Thriller Miller is off-grider

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)

1400062357-01-_scthumbzzz_-2437229Bode: 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.

young Bode Miller
Learning to ski in Franconia, Miller looked like this

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.

b000bhhs4s-01-a2wpo7ty775wev-_scmzzzzzzz_-7374552Spyder – Bode Miller’s Web Hat – Beanie – Buy it from Amazon – $29.95

“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.

2 Responses

  1. Environmental Arts and Sports: Sustainable Practises ready for 2008 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Canada

    David Jakupca of the International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA) comments on the sustainable practises used in Turin, Italy to make the XX Olympic Games the first certified green Olympic Games in Europe

    Cleveland, OH — At Turin, Italy more than 2,500 athletes from 85 nations who will be competing in 15 different disciplines have arrived in Turin and have moved in the eco-friendly buildings of the new Olympic Villages, constructed of pollution-free materials.

    These will be the first certified green Olympic Games in Europe, a face of which the Torino Organizing Committee XX Olympic Winter Games (TOROC) is very proud.

    Both the XX Olympic Winter Games and the IX Paralympic Winter Games of Torino achieved this green designation by applying the ecological tools provided by the EU – the European Community system for the control and management of the environment, the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme, and the European Eco-Classification system.

    TOROC President Valentino Castellani said Olympics organizers decided to adopt these tools “to help us reach the objectives that we had set for environmental sustainability.” Ensuring a climate-friendly Olympics is one of the cornerstones of TOROC’s plans.

    “Mega events, both cultural and athletic, have a significant and long-lasting impact on the environment,” said David Jakupca, internationally recognized as the Spiritual Father of the Environmental Art Movement and founder of ICEA. “I hope the experience of Torino will serve as a stimulus for the organizers of sports events in the future.”

    The Cleveland 2004 International Children’s Games environmental performance received an International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA) Environmental Award for “clean and green” games by adhering to strict standards not only in sport, but also in the environment and sustainable development.

    The ICEA Award aimed at contributing to the assessment of the environmental footprint of the International hildren’s Games, the award gives the green component of the Games a high score.

    Marks were given to areas such as environmental planning and evaluation, protection of fragile natural and cultural areas, waste management and water conservation, and the use of environmentally friendly construction technologies.
    The highest marks were awarded to the areas of public transport, improvement of existing infrastructure, and promotion of sustainable environmental awareness.

    “Beyond the value learned from good sportsmanship, the International Children’s Games should also be a showcase for the highest environmental standards of sustainable development,” said David Jakupca, Director of ICEA.

    During the 2006 Olympic Games, a delegation from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) led by Executive Director Klaus Toepfer will participate in a ‘green dinner’ on February 15 to celebrate the first anniversary of the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol on February 16.

    The Heritage Climate TORINO (HECTOR) project is designed to make the Winter Olympics carbon neural. By supporting forestry, energy efficiency and renewable energy schemes both at home and abroad, the Torino Olympics will be able to offset the estimated 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide that will be generated during the 16 days of the Games.

    An extensive monitoring plan was developed for the entire Olympic area which includes 16 environmental indicators, including water cycle, air quality, soil use, energy consumption, waste production, ecosystems, landscape, and urban environment.

    Suppliers of good and services involved in the Games were considered and selected based on the ecological quality of their products.

    In line with the European eco-label for hotel services, TOROC is promoting an eco-label trademark to tourist sites and 12 hotels in the Olympic areas and provided the technical support necessary for them to obtain cortication. They are designed with a floral logo, symbol of environmental friendliness.

    A new initiative – Refrigerants, Naturally! – forms part of this environmental component of the Games. Two of the official sponsors of the Olympic Games, McDonald’s Corporation and the Coco Cola Company, are the founders of Refrigerants, Naturally! Together with Unilever.

    This voluntary initiative, supported by UNEP and Greenpeace, is promoting alternative point-of-sale refrigeration technology in the food and beverage industry that safeguards the climate as well as the ozone layer.

    Coca Cola has deployed more than 1,000 beverage machines at the Torino Games that use carbon dioxide as the refrigerant. These machines eliminate the need for ozone-damaging chloroflurocarbons (CFCs) and hydroflurocarbons (HFCs).

    If this technology were adopted globally on a large scale, it could make a significant improvement in this industry sector’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while at the same time safeguarding the Earth’s protective ozone shield, UNEP said.

    The TOROC waste management plan is designed with the goal of reducing to zero the quantity of waste destined for rubbish dumps.

    The plan combines recycling of 68 percent of the organic and other dry waste material produced during the Games with an efficient system of energy retrieval – 32 percent of the waste will be transformed into fuel.

    Waste production is being discouraged by the use of bio-polymers in disposable tableware and a reduction in the use of paper for communication and information purposes.

    Sports events like the Olympic Games require years of work on a vast scale in terms of infrastructures, facilities and buildings, the organizers recognized. These public works draw on natural resources like water, air and the land, and they leave affect the environment of the region involved.

    “This is why TOROC decided to adopt a long-term approach to the Olympic Games, considering right from the start the regulations and the tools provided by the European Union to safeguard the environment,” the organizers said.

    “The success of a big sports event,” said President of the Piemonte Region Mercedes Bresso, “is measured by its capacity to generate positive effects over a medium and long period for the territory that hosts it. When we organized the Olympic Games of Torino 2006, we thought first of all, that we had to leave a long-lasting legacy of development and sustainability for the citizens and for the territory.”

    Bresso said, “The Torino 2006 projects that we supported and funded are meant to develop permanent practices of energy savings and CO2 control, in line with the Kyoto Protocol.”

    Next its Canada’s turn to set the marks!


    About ICEA:
    International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA)
    P. O. Box 81496
    Cleveland, Ohio 44181 USA
    Phone/fax: 440-891-8376

    The International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA) is a force for socially responsible activity. ICEA’s mission is to “Assist in understanding of the relationship between Humans and their Environment through the Arts”. The International Center for Environmental Arts (ICEA) was founded by David and Renate Jakupca in 1987 to meet the compelling needs of ordinary citizens for access to current, balanced, understandable information about complex global issues. Over the years, ICEA has gained a reputation for excellence based upon a unique library of specialized, current information on global importance and a wide range of imaginative programming and collaborations with other organizations to meet the needs of a broad constituency. With affiliates across the globe, the ICEA supports research, information sharing and effective action promoting a sustainable culture of Peace.

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