Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Mellow MILLER

Newly married, recovering from knee surgery, bad boy Bode has changed attitude entering twilight of career

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COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. -- Whether it's in life or on the slopes, Bode Miller charges after what he wants at a breathless speed.

The U.S. skier simply doesn't do slow.

On the course, that go-for-broke approach has served him quite well -- 33 World Cup wins, two overall titles and five Olympic medals.

Off it, too: He met pro volleyball player Morgan Beck in May and five months later they were married in a private ceremony on his boat. He also fancied owning a racehorse and recently partnered with Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert's wife to purchase a two-year-old colt.

But now comes the difficult part: Slowing down for a bit.

Miller is coming off a major knee injury and it's taking time to get back to full speed. Maybe years ago, when Miller was much more impatient and racing meant just about everything to him, he might have gambled and returned before he was ready.

Not at 35, though, and in the twilight of his career. He insisted he's in no rush to click back into his skis and compete. If he has to miss a few races to allow the left knee to heal after microfracture surgery just nine months ago, so be it.

"There's no gain to come back and race a few races and get away with it a few times and then screw up my knee and have to retire," Miller said.

He's definitely out for the World Cup stop in Lake Louise, Alta., next weekend. And he probably won't be ready to race in Beaver Creek, Colo., either, even though he is the defending downhill champion on the demanding Birds of Prey course.

Ask him when he hopes to return and he'll just smirk.

"Hope doesn't play much part in it. You can hope for a (winning) Megabucks ticket, or hope for anything else," said Miller, who was scheduled to attend the U.S. Ski Team's introduction ceremony Thursday night in Vail. "The fact is it's an injury that takes a long time to heal. If you come back too soon, you really do risk undoing the surgery and putting yourself back to square one."

Miller's in a good place -- a real good place -- even if he can't compete. As he walked from room to room at a hotel to conduct interviews for the ski team on Wednesday, he held the hand of his wife.

Just a few months ago, Miller didn't know Morgan Beck.

But she definitely knew of him.

Her first encounter with Miller was when she was a teenager and attending the 2002 Salt Lake City Games with her parents. She was doing her English homework one night when loud music began blaring from the condo next door.

"My parents went outside and it was Bode Miller. They were like, 'That Bode Miller!' recounted Morgan Miller, who changed her last name after they were wed on Oct. 7. "Little did we know that 10 years later I was going to marry the guy."

This is how they met: Miller was visiting his agent, Lowell Taub, when he happened to see a picture of Morgan hanging on the wall. He asked all about her. He later gave her a call when she was at a beach volleyball tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Miller happened to be in town as well, to pick up a new houseboat. He asked if he could come out and watch.

Her initial response was no. She didn't want to be nervous with him in the stands.

She relented and he showed up. They've been inseparable ever since.

They were married on his houseboat in San Diego, with just the wedding officiant, a photographer and their cat in attendance.

"Bode had the mentality that if you know it's right, then there's no point in waiting," said Morgan Miller, who was an outside hitter at California. "It's great."

Now, they're searching for a new house -- on land, not water -- up north, just to better accommodate her volleyball career. But they don't want to move too far away, especially since Miller's four-year-old daughter, Dacey, lives in the San Diego area.

As for the World Cup season, Morgan Miller will travel along with him. She even took up skiing again.

In the spring, when the ski season ends and volleyball begins, they will flip-flop roles and Miller will follow her to tournaments.

"We made the pact to do everything together until we get sick of each other," she said with a laugh.

Bode Miller also has gotten involved in horse racing. Last weekend, Carving -- the horse he co-owns with Bob Baffert's wife, Jill -- beat Fury Kapcori by a half-length to win the $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park.

It was almost as good a feeling as when Miller captures a downhill race.

"Definitely exciting," said Miller, who won Olympic gold in the super-combined at the 2010 Vancouver Games. "It has ups and downs, but it's been pretty much ups for me, which is convenient. But I know there are downs, too. Right now, we're kind of figuring it out and learning the process."

The Bafferts are friends with Miller and even named their seven-year-old son, Bode, after him.

"The reason I wanted to do this was because he knows what he's doing," Miller said. "He brings expertise."

More involved once his ski career is finished?

"Definitely," Miller said. "It's thrilling."

For the moment, he's focused on returning to the hill.

Miller's knee first began bothering him last winter when he was competing on an icy slope in Sochi, Russia, a test run for the 2014 Winter Games.

He tried to ski through the pain and then decided to return to the U.S. to get his knee examined, which led to surgery.

When the knee still wouldn't co-operate, he opted for microfracture surgery, a procedure teammate Will Brandenburg had performed in January 2009.

Brandenburg's advice? Take rehab slow.

"In the long run, that's going to pay off," Brandenburg said. "He's at a point where he can take his time, make sure it's perfectly right. It's going to be better than it was."

Miller's banking on that. While the doctors were fixing his knee, they also mended a cartilage issue that's hampered him since a crash in 2001.

"That (injury) has been a real pain the last 12 years, shaping the way I train and ski," Miller said. "If I can have healthy knees out of this, it opens the door for a whole bunch of things."

The knee already is feeling better. He recently skied in Soelden, Austria, and was able to keep up with his company.

"The speed was fine," Miller said. "But I want to make sure I do the most thorough job of getting it to heal as I can, to get the best possible result.

"I really don't feel the need to risk it right now."

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 19, 2012 B8

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