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Berea Graduate has Olympic Hopes

Phil Miller, ’10, represented the United States in the Junior World Championships as a member of the bobsled team in Park City, Utah on February 6. The event was held on the same track as the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic bobsled events—fitting, as it is a location that reflects Miller’s ultimate goal: to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Phil Miller

Miller’s journey began in Spartanburg, South Carolina. From there, he went on to spend four years at Berea College, a time he calls “the most dynamic period of [his] life.” Currently, he is training in Salt Lake City to represent his hometown, Berea College, and the United States in the world’s premiere athletic showcase: the Olympics.

Phil’s is an inspiring story, one he says is largely motivated by his childhood goals. “Before anyone ever told me I was ‘too small’ or ‘too slow’, I had dreams of becoming an elite athlete— either as a baseball, basketball, or football player. As I grew into adolescence, those dreams got put on the shelf as I watched kids pass me by, with their high school heroics and college recruitment letters.” When Miller came to Berea, he kept up with sports through intramural flag football. That’s when a junior sprinter on the track team approached him about running. It was as a member of the track team that Phil “first got the notion” to bobsled.

During the training season for the track and field team, his coaches, especially Dan Bryant, encouraged him to look into bobsledding. They noticed his potential to exert the speed, strength and power that the sport requires, and they directed him toward the United States Bobsled and Skeleton Federation (USBSF). After competing in his final Berea track event, Miller began his bobsledding training. “My goal was to train as hard as possible before that date, score well at the combine, and let God do the rest.” Miller finished second out of 38 drivers at the combine. That’s when things started moving fast. One of the established drivers invited Miller to come to Salt Lake to push with him, and Miller couldn’t pass up the opportunity. “I knew the only way for me to reach my goals in the sport was to do it 100 percent, which would mean big changes for me.” It wasn’t an easy choice though, he explained. “I'm very faith and family oriented, so the thought of moving to Salt Lake City away from my friends and loved ones was daunting to say the least.” Miller ended up having a fantastic first season, culminating in last week’s competition, where he finished tenth as the brake-man for one of the U.S. two-man teams.

As well, the United States’ four-man bobsled team, including Miller, finished seventh at the Jr. World Championships. Says Miller, “I was pleased with my performance at Jr. Worlds. U.S.A. came into the competition as huge underdogs, and while we didn't win, we did exceed expectations.” Miller’s team was made up primarily of rookies who were competing against seasoned Russian and German teams. “Despite our inexperience,” reasons Miller, “we performed well as a team and showed that we belong with the best.” On a personal level, he added, “The coaches were very happy with my performance this week and showed that they have a lot of confidence in me.” It was the high mark in a momentous year for Miller, who first started training for bobsled last spring.

What Miller enjoys most about the sport is the training. He explains, “My athletic background includes lots of running, jumping, and lifting, and to succeed in bobsled I have to use it all. The sport demands a training approach that comes very naturally to me, and that's the part that I really enjoy. To me it’s not work.” Miller enjoys the camaraderie involved as well, especially in the four-man event. “Each team member must know his teammates and be able to properly execute his responsibilities. When it all comes together...it’s just as satisfying as any other team sport.” And, of course, as it is with all who take part in the sometimes dangerous sport, Miller enjoys the rush. “Make no mistake; bobsled itself is a very violent activity. 85 [miles per hour] down a mile of ice in a metal capsule with little to no padding does not make for a comfortable ride,” but he admits, “Bobsled is a rush, and there's no other experience like it.” Of course, he laughs, “I definitely had headaches after my first few runs, [but] after that I got acclimated and they went away.” When asked what it is like to actually be in the bobsled as it makes its downhill journey, Miller replies, “[It is] exhilarating, bumpy, [and] exhausting. By the time I get to the bottom and pull the brakes, I'm exhausted by so many bumps [and] g-forces.” And of course, he adds, “A lack of padding adds insult to injury.”

Miller attributes much of his drive and success to the lessons he learned as a Berea College student. “[My time at Berea] was a time of great self-discovery in terms of academics and athletics. The last six months have come with far more challenges than I could have anticipated, but the lessons I learned as a student, worker, and athlete at Berea have amply prepared me for these trials.” Miller is a prime example of the benefits Berea’s emphasis on self-reliance has on its students. In addition to his bobsledding obligations, Miller works 9-5 for a local website and has an active church and social life. “Balance and independence are inherent in the philosophy of Berea. As a young man, alone in a new place, these traits have helped me retain my sanity. There was a time when Berea was all new to me as well, but now I'm much better equipped to handle the challenges than I was as a freshman in Blue Ridge [Residence Hall]. Berea has a way of bringing the outside world all to one place, and now I feel more prepared for my new life and all new goals.”

The goal at the forefront of Miller’s mind today is to be a member of Team U.S.A. to compete in the 2014 Winter Olympics, which are to be held in Sochi, Russia. The United States will send two four-man sleds to Sochi, which would total about two drivers, six push athletes, and some alternates. Miller says that if the athletes were chosen today, he would not be among them. “But,” he says, “my goal is to work, train, sleep and eat for the next three years in a way that will put me where I need to be when it comes time for the USBSF to announce the teams. I believe that if I follow my plan,” he adds, “God willing, I'll be in the Olympics.” Miller, once a student ambassador for Berea’s admissions office, would become a proud ambassador for the athletes of the United States.

BC-Now! will continue to cover this story, and you can read about Miller at the Jr. World Championships at http://bobsled.teamusa.org/news/2011/02/06/meyers-claims-junior-world-championship-silver-medal/40847?ngb_id=23.

Photo courtesy of romneyphotography.com.

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