By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Tuesday, August 6, 2019
After what he went through last year, Cody Miller has a whole new outlook on and appreciation for swimming.
A significant and nagging knee injury limited his ability to extend and weakened his right leg, and that impacted his speed and performance in the 100 breaststroke.
It ultimately kept him from being at his best at 2018 Phillips 66 USA Swimming Championships and from making the Pan Pacific and World Championship teams.
But he swam well enough to keep his spot on the U.S. National Team and earn a berth on this week’s Pan American Games team competing in Lima, Peru.
Having come so close to imagining a future of not being able to swim – to do the thing he loves the most in this world – opened his eyes to many things and taught Miller not to take anything for granted.
“After finishing fifth at Nationals, and being in a tremendous amount of pain, I had to ask myself if I was going to be able to keep doing this or was it over?” he said. “When you face that prospect of not being able to do something you’ve done since you were a kid and is the way you make a living, it gets real really fast.
“Now, I look at every day in the pool as a bonus. I don’t squander any opportunities.”
Miller said he sees the opportunity this week at Pan Ams as another step toward achieving a second Olympic team next summer in Tokyo.
Two months ago at the TYR Pro Swim Series stop in Bloomington, Ind., he swam a personal-best in winning the 200 breaststroke (and also won the 100 breast), and he said he feels back to full strength and is ready to challenge and contend every time he takes the water.
“Winning cures everything, and for me to go a lifetime best was tremendous because I can’t do the same volume in practice because of the injury, so I’ve had to find inventive, smart ways to maximize my training,” he said.
“You never really know how it’s going to translate into competition. I may go fast in practice, but until you’re in competitive circumstances, it’s the unknown.”
What isn’t unknown is that Miller’s knee – which involved a torn MCL last year that was the culmination of years of wear and tear – is as good as new.
The tear caused him to lose considerable muscle density. To compensate, he overused his left leg, and that caused it to atrophy and a good bit of consistent pain.
“Rather than address the problem, I have a high pain tolerance and just pushed through the pain, neglecting the problem,” he said. “It took six months to rebuild, restructure, my knee by having a few procedures to extract blood that had surrounded my knee. That allowed my tendons to heal.
“I’ve had minor injuries over the course of my career but nothing like this. When you spend six months unconsciously hurting yourself, damaging your body, it has a psychological impact on you. But once I worked through that, I felt stronger and more confident – and even faster – than I had in years.”
Over time, he got his strength back in his right leg, and was able to equally use both legs for balanced power and flexibility – important in his breaststroke events.
He’s tested it at various TYR Pro Swim events this year, but this week’s Pan Ams will be a true challenge against a strong international field.
But despite the setbacks he experienced over the course of the past year, Miller said he knows he is battle-tested and is ready to swim against the rest of the world.
And he’s looking forward to the Pan Am experience – living among athletes from other countries in a village set up, very similar to the Olympics.
“My experience at WUGs was one of the most fun I’ve ever had, and I’m excited to be at Pan Ams because it’s so much like the Olympics, and that was awesome,” Miller said. “There’s something special about getting to meet and interact with athletes from other countries.
“We always think we’re so different because of our cultures and customs, but in talking with them, it becomes clear we’re really not that different. That’s amazing to learn.”
With his YouTube videos doing well and his audience growing, Miller said during his physical ordeal he realized his life was more than just swimming – but it wasn’t something he was prepared to give up or lose.
The entire time, he gained a new perspective about and appreciation for how much he loved swimming and how important it is in his life.
Suffice it to say, he’s glad to be back at full strength and is eager to prove he’s as much a force to be reckoned with as he has ever been.
“When I was going through all of this, my wife, Ali, asked me why I was still swimming with all the pain I was in and limitations I was experiencing,” said Miller, who will swim for the D.C. Tridents in the International Swim League (ISL) this fall. “I honestly didn’t know except that it was something I had always done, and something I automatically identified myself as being and doing.
“That all forced me to re-evaluate what I was doing and why I was doing it. I came to the conclusion that I want to keep swimming. I’m lucky to be doing this because it’s what I love. Being a professional swimmer is a dream job, and I’m so fortunate that, despite all that happened, I am still about to live out that dream. I’m more in love with swimming now than ever, and I’m so excited to see how much further I can take it.”