Collegeswimming.com recently posted an article about an amazing coach that I did not know was even still at it. When I was an age grouper, was the for the Glacier Swim Club in , which is about a nine hour ferry ride north of my home town of Petersburg. Please read the heartfelt nod for him as an honorable mention for Assistant Coach of the Year by his head coach and one of his swimmers from Lewis and Clark at the college swimming site if you haven't already.
Even as a 10 and under, I could see that Mike was an inspirational guy. He is one of those people who has carried the Olympic torch and deserved to do so. His athletes were very loyal to him, and he was seen as a pretty intense coach by my generation in SE-AK. When Mike was stricken with cancer, I think I was a freshman in high school and still young enough that I didn’t really understand what he was going through. Later in my life, as my own father fought cancer, I thought of Mike often. Mike put up a fight and won, and through that fight he touched the lives of his athletes, and the SE Alaska community, even more.
You have to remember, I was pretty young when I was on deck with him, but my memories of a few incidents still stand out to me to this day. Maybe it is because I am now a coach and I have collected these things subconsciously to help make me better. I am not sure; all I know is that he made an impression on me.
On swim trips in Alaska we did not stay at hotels. We were billeted, or housed with families for two or more nights every time we traveled to a meet. We built some unique friendships that way, but the system was not problem-free. When I was ten years old, the host I was supposed to stay with did not show up to get me at the ferry terminal. Mike took me to his home rather than trying to talk someone else into taking me. His boys were a little younger than me, but I had fun. He has a beautiful family and their compassion and hospitality were not lost on me even at that age. He didn’t cut me any slack though, when at another meet the next year he caught me running on the deck at the Juneau pool and made me do push ups in front of all my friends. How embarrassing. It’s okay, Mike. I deserved it. I do the same thing to kids all the time now.
Mike could definitely inspire. I remember once sitting in on a talk where Mike told us the story of swimming his first 200 fly. He was teaching us to take on our fears in a way that helped us to embrace the unknown and to rise to the challenge. I walked away understanding that we don’t really know what we are capable of until we just get up and give it our best shot, and that if we go into it with the wrong attitude we are not allowing ourselves to excel. So you can imagine how disappointed I was in myself when a season later at a meet I whined to my coach Chris about having to swim the 400 IM, 500 and 1650 all in one two hour session… I knew that my coach wasn‘t going to let me out of it, but it was worth a try. The problem is, I didn’t realize he was sitting next to Mike Miller when those stupid complaints came out of my mouth. Mike lectured me about not appreciating the gift I had been given by having the opportunity to swim all three. He told me that my coach would not have put me in them if he didn’t believe I could do them and do them well. I shut up and swam. I cut ten off the IM, twelve off the 500 and almost thirty off of my mile. It probably had to do with the fact that I knew Mike was going to be paying attention and I didn’t want to have to face him again. He was right. I was wrong. It was as simple as that, even if he was lecturing another coach's swimmer right in front of him. Swimming is a gift as is life, and we have to appreciate that even when, and especially when, it is really hard.
I am truly thrilled to see that Michael Miller is still coaching and is still touching the lives of so many people. The world of swimming is infinitely better with guys like him on deck. Keep up the good work, Mike, and congrats on the nomination for Assistant Coach of the Year. You deserve the recognition-- you reached me, and you weren’t even my coach!