Kelly Whiteside, USA TODAY Sports 1:43 p.m. EDT October 18, 2013 FRANCONIA, N.H. – The Bode Miller the world rarely gets to see is sitting in the room where he was born. The family room might look different from its late '70s decor, but the scenery hasn't changed.
The 450 acres of rolling fields, streams and woodland his family has lived on for the last 70 years looks as beautiful as ever.
As Miller, 36, heads into the twilight of his ski racing career, and likely his fifth and final Olympics, he's convinced many see him as "over the hill or washed up." Miller says this, by pure happenstance, while in the room where it all began.
The World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria, on Oct.27 will be Miller's first race in 20 months after missing last season due to microfracture surgery on his left knee. Still, his goals are huge, skeptics be damned.
"I think I could absolutely go out and crush this year," says the most successful U.S. Olympic male alpine skier of all time. "I can have the best season I've ever had. There's no question about that. My body is still very capable of it, and my mind is in a much better place than it's ever been before in terms of the right harmony in my life with my wife and my kids, my family and the foundation (his Turtle Ridge Foundation supports adaptive and youth sports programs)."
Becoming a family
Last October, Miller married pro beach volleyball player Morgan Beck, 26, after a whirlwind courtship. Beck, 26, had previously been married and was in no rush to date again, and certainly not someone portrayed as a party boy in ski boots. Plus Beck had first-hand knowledge.
In 2002, Beck, then 14, attended the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City (where Miller won two silver medals) with her family. Late one night she was interrupted while doing her English homework. "All I hear is music, people screaming and sure enough it's all of Bode's buddies. He has the condo next to us," she said. "My parents checked it out, came back and said, 'Oh, that Bode Miller!"
Ten years later, Miller and Beck, who are represented by the same agent, met for the first time. In Beck's case, reluctantly. She was playing in a tournament in Fort Lauderdale when Miller called and asked her out to dinner.
"Nope. Sorry," she said.
The next night, he called and asked to meet up for drinks.
"Nope. Sorry," she said.
"Well, I'm going to come to your tournament tomorrow."
"Please don't come. I don't want you there. I don't want any distractions."
Miller showed up anyway and cheered enthusiastically throughout.
"I thought, 'Who is this guy? He needs to go away.'"
After the last match, Beck saw Miller walking toward her.
"Oh my gosh, he needs to just disappear," she said.
She tried to walk away. Miller persisted. "I don't want to freak you out, but we're soul mates," Miller told her.
"At that point, I'm thinking this guy is absolutely crazy," she said.
Within a month and a half of meeting, Miller bought an engagement ring.
So did she have a hard time convincing her parents that Miller wasn't just that rabble rouser from the condo next door?
"Yes! Yes!" her father Ed offers.
It's Wednesday and Morgan Miller is headed to the couple's Orange County, Calif., home after an early morning practice. Her dad is driving. Her husband is en route to Austria. (Morgan Miller, who has never seen her husband race, is headed to Austria on Sunday, bringing "the little guy" — Miller's 8-month-old son — with her.)
"Here's a guy we didn't know a lot about but it appeared as if he had some baggage," Ed Beck says. "So we said, 'Just be careful.' We know she was smart enough to figure it out and strong enough to do what the hell she wanted to anyway."
So what does Ed Beck think of his son-in-law now? "He's one of the nicest guys I've met, very thoughtful."
What the Millers have endured in their first year of marriage is "more than what people go through in 20 years," Morgan Miller says. In January, she suffered a miscarriage. In February, a former girlfriend gave birth to a son fathered by Miller and a court battle for custody ensued. (Bode Miller also has a 5-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.) In April, his brother, Chelone, 29, died of an apparent seizure thought to be related to the traumatic brain injury he sustained in a motorcycle accident in 2005.
A sentimental place
Chelone Miller was hoping to make his first Olympic team in Sochi, Russia. "This was probably his last realistic chance to do it," Bode Miller says from his family's northern New Hampshire home on a late summer afternoon.
Assuming Bode Miller is headed to Sochi, perhaps he'll bring a bit of Chelone with him. Miller said he had "an unusual physical response" and perhaps absorbed what he calls a little bit of his brother's "life force. That energy definitely has parts of his identity in it."
Miller found himself taking on some of his brother's traits. While playing golf, he started putting like his brother, not realizing it at first. "It was kind of cool in way because I felt like I had a piece of him to take forever," Miller says.
In August at the sixth annual BodeBash Golf and Tennis Classic, a fundraiser for his foundation, memorabilia was auctioned to benefit a Chelone Miller memorial fund for aspiring athletes "who embody a dedicated and free spirited connection to their sport."
In between tennis games at BodeBash, Miller's daughter, Dacey, sits in his lap eating ice cream. Dacey lives with her mother in California, but Miller sees her often, a main reason why he lives in a place completely opposite from where he grew up.
His grandparents opened Tamarack Lodge in 1946 and 16 years later turned a few acres into a tennis camp. It's also where he grew up in the wood cabin his parents built (famously without electricity or running water).
"This whole space is very family and its very sentimental and that's why Bode loves to come here," says his sister, Kayla, who runs the foundation. "That's why he comes home to do these events. It's different than anyplace else in the world."
Jo Miller points out the room where she gave birth to the first two of her four children and smiles because her son is home, even if it's just for a weekend. "Now he has a house and wife and a life, which is really cool," she says. As for that California house and California life …
"My reaction was 'Oh my god. Really? Bode? Driving the 405?' I would have thought he'd be out of his element. But he's smiling and is happy as can be."
The last day of September, Bode Miller attends a news conference with U.S. ski team officials. He's smiling. A few years ago, the scene would have been hard to imagine. A few highlights from the Bad Boy Bode era: In the lead-up to the 2006 Torino Olympics, he said in an interview he skied "wasted." Hyped to win as many as five gold medals in Torino, he came home empty-handed but "got to party and socialize at an Olympic level," he said at the time. Though Miller said his comments were misinterpreted, the damage was done.
Following the 2007 World Cup season, unhappy with the way the U.S. Ski programs were run, Miller formed his own team. Now, he acknowledges he "influenced things in a negative way because of my attitude at times." But he's happy how the organization has changed in ensuing years. At the 2010 Vancouver Games, he won a gold, silver and a bronze.
At that news conference almost three weeks ago, Miller partnered with the U.S. Olympic Committee to launch a Gateway to Gold program to help identify new Paralympic athletes.
Miller sat next to his friend Cam Shaw-Doran, a former snowboarder who was paralyzed in a car accident in 1997. Shaw-Doran helps run Miller's foundation.
All of this has led to what Miller calls harmony in his life. Whether it leads to a successful World Cup season and the Olympics soon will be known. Miller recently had a room full of World Cup trophies, which were stored in Europe, shipped to his California home. As he unpacked them, he began to get emotional.
"It was very nostalgic to see a physical representation of the last 15-20 years of my work. "When you see it through the bulk of trophies ... it was impressive. I think I have 90 something podiums or something like that," he says, looking back at his life from the room where it all began.
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