Aspiring winter athletes across the country and around the world look up to Bode Miller. They do so with good reason; with six medals to his name, Miller is the most decorated male Olympic skier in U.S. history. But it was a long climb to that pinnacle. Years ago, before the medals and acclaim, Bode was a little boy in New Hampshire who looked up to his father, Woody. Now a father himself, Miller tries to model some aspects of his own life after his father’s.
In New York City last Monday, Miller had a chance to recognize that inspiration at a Father’s Day-week event sponsored by tequila company Jose Cuervo. After Bode presented Woody with a bottle of Jose Cuervo Reserva de Familia, father and son spent time flipping between reminiscences of the best and worst moments of Bode's career, which he identified as the combined run in the 2003 world championships in St. Moritz and the 2014 World Cup downhill in Kitzbuehel Austria, respectively. He spoke about his fitness, his future skiing plans and plenty of other topics that reporters brought up. The subject Body spoke about most enthusiastically, though, was his relationship with his father.
“His decision of how and where to raise his family and the belief system he lives by are partly what I’m honoring him for,” Bode said. “You can tell your kids what to do and what to think, but showing it and living it is the only way to translate any real message.”
Living in the woods of New Hampshire, Woody and Bode’s mother, Jo Kenney, homeschooled Bode and his siblings. When the kids weren’t in the books, Woody had them outside, learning all kinds of lessons, the kind that Bode would take with him into adulthood as well as all the way to the top of U.S. skiing.
“Some of the biggest things that I picked up from my dad were the values of patience and hard work,” Bode said. ”He was always doing something. He was always really imaginative. He believed he could do things that seemed impossible to me as a little kid, things he probably didn’t even know if he could accomplish.”
If that sounds familiar, it should. One does not become an Olympic skier without patience and hard work. One does not reach the apex of Olympic skiing without self-belief, imagination and a tremendous motor. These are all traits that the father and son Miller share.
“It takes long to get good at something. You can’t look for immediate results in anything that matters. I was abundantly aware of that from a young age,” Bode said. “I wasn’t concerned that I wasn’t as good as some of the other kids right then because I knew if I used my brain and the skills that I had, I could get to want to go in the long run. That approach has come to fit a lot of different parts of my life, including skiing. That’s all from him.”
The commitment and attention that Woody showed Bode as a child taught the junior Miller more lessons than he realized; some of Woody’s wisdom has only recently taken hold as Bode acclimates himself to fatherhood.
“I refer back to interactions with my father pretty regularly when I look at how I am trying to be a parent and the way I interact with my kids,” Bode said. “I think there is a huge amount of value I’m getting out of that, now that I’m a father.”
The New York cameo held extra significance to Woody, who doesn’t get to see his son or grandchildren as often as he would like. Woody still lives in New Hampshire; Bode and his family reside in California. But the distance has done nothing to shake the bond that was forged in those New England woods almost four decades ago.
“You see it all the time. Priorities change and families drift apart, and people look back on their relationships with their parents and have regrets as they get older and you start to worry about them passing away, but it’s a natural part of life,” Bode said. ”The great thing about my upbringing was that I wasn’t raised that way. We try to make time for each other and maintain the relationship, but I don’t stress about it, and I don’t feel like they stress about it either. That’s makes it much easier to enjoy the time we do have together. That’s important, because it is a challenge.”
Woody Miller told a story of listening to an interview of Bode in which he spoke about his perspective of humans as animals. He said that, while it wasn’t something that he’d tried to pass on to Bode, that perspective of human beings was his originally.
“For me I think it’s just about being opportunistic. When something like this La Familia presentation comes along, it’s a great chance to spend time together,” Woody said. “When he comes to New Hampshire, we play tennis doubles together. I just cherish all the time that we spend together.”
That time together—with both of his parents—is what formed the foundation for Bode Miller's success. Now it's also the foundation for his own family, as the son goes forth with children of his own.