Long Road to San Antonio for Kansas' Miller
LAWRENCE, Kan. – If Chelsie Miller can survive a 15-hour car ride with her brother, the Kansas senior-to-be could have a sweet homecoming and display the result of a summer of training with some of the most elite swimmers in the country when she takes to the blocks at the 2016 Phillips 66 US Nationals.
The Houston, Texas product is set to compete in the 200- and 400-meter individual medley as well as the 200-meter butterfly at the Northside Swim Center in San Antonio, Texas later this week, completing a 3,500-mile trek across the United States this summer.
Miller’s 15-hour road trip from Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Kansas All-American has been training with SwimMAC, to Houston, Texas pales in comparison to the thousands of miles she’s logged traveling to the NCAA Championships, US Open Water Nationals in Florida, and SwimMAC. However, the ride may feel a little longer to her younger brother, Chase.
“I have a feeling I might end up on the side of the road at least once during the drive,” Miller said with a chuckle. “Chase is 17 months younger than me and I tend to be what my mom calls an antagonist. I’m sure he’ll want to get rid of me at some point of the trip. If you lock me up in a car for 15 hours, I just get a little crazy.”
While the road has become a close companion, North Carolina and SwimMAC have served as Miller’s home for the summer season.
SwimMAC is renowned for training some of the nation’s best, who happen to be some of the world’s best swimmers. Olympic competitors like Ryan Lochte, Tyler Clary, Cullen Jones and Cammile Adams all train at the same facility in Charlotte.
“Most of the time I swim with people like Cammile (Adams) and Kate Mills, they are more of the distance swimmers,” Miller said. “It has been a really great experience to see how the athletes at the next level train, what they do and how they prepare for meets. It’s also been fun to see that they still have fun and enjoy swimming.”
Kansas’ first individual Big 12 champion has respectively earned the title as one of Kansas’ all-time best swimmers. Miller is a two-time NCAA Championship participant, has received two all-American honorable mention awards, and was the 2014 Big 12 Swimmer of the Meet.
Keeping herself humble hasn’t been an issue for Miller, but going from being the swimmer-to-beat to trying her hardest not to get last was a challenge she had to overcome as she shared lanes with the nation’s top competitors over the last several weeks.
“Being in Charlotte has definitely boosted my confidence,” Miller said. “I’ve always been competitive at Kansas but I’ve also felt like I have had to keep things in perspective. I push myself here because when I first got to SwimMAC I was out of shape and didn’t want to be the last one every time. I had to step up and compete to make sure I belonged in this group.”
A few months later, belonging to the group is exactly what Miller has accomplished, something she hopes show when the starter pistol fires in San Antonio.
“Swimming with the other girls eventually became comfortable,” Miller said. “It does boost my confidence to know that I’m not that far off of this- that I can compete at the next level.”
Although now it may seem as if Miller is a natural fit with SwimMAC, her journey there wasn’t always a guarantee. A few years ago Kansas swimming head coach Clark Campbell mentioned to Miller that it could be an advantage for her to swim with a different group of people over the summer, but Miller never gave much thought to the idea until this year.
After a conversation with her parents, Miller had decided this was the summer to venture out of her swim bubble and train with a new group. With Campbell on board, the two began talking with David Marsh, the head coach of SwimMAC Elite, at this year’s NCAA Championship meet in Greensboro, North Carolina. The conversation went well, but as time went on the communication slowed.
Without word from Marsh, Miller began to think that she would be heading back to Houston for another summer with Fleet, her former club team which she’ll represent at this week’s meet. Then out of the blue Miller opened her phone and was surprised with an email from the SwimMAC coaching staff.
“When I saw the email I was a little caught off guard,” Miller said. “I already had it in my mind that I was going to train at home, but I called my mom and talked through the decision with her. I was nervous to go but my mom reminded me that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
That’s all the convincing it took; Miller was ready to head east and begin a new adventure.
Once Miller settled in, the rigors of training with Olympic-caliber athletes began. An average summer day consisted of swimming, napping, watching hours of Netflix, and more swimming.
Miller’s day started with the incessant beeping of an alarm at 6:30 a.m., a quick breakfast and a 45-minute drive to the pool from an extended family member’s home, where she stayed this summer. Practice begins at 7:30 a.m., with an activation exercise to wake the body up before a two-hour pool workout. Miller then heads home for lunch, a nap and fills free time binge watching “White Collar” or “Friday Night Lights” before heading back to the pool at 4 p.m.
The demanding schedule was exhausting but Miller is hoping that the hours spent in the pool swimming with the very best will result in a memorable senior campaign.
“I’m pumped for this season,” Miller said. “Every year I’ve been at Kansas the team just keeps getting better and better and better. I think this year is going to be special.”
Before Miller can really focus on her final season at Kansas she has the summer national championships on the schedule. Last year Miller competed at the same event in Irvine, California, and swam an Olympic Trials cut in the 400-meter individual medley (4:44.12). Her time remained the 13th fastest qualifying time as of July 14.
Assuming that Chase didn’t get too irritated with his sister and strand her on the road somewhere between Charlotte and Houston, Miller will head to San Antonio for nationals on Wednesday, Aug. 5 after a few days at home.
Miller is slated to swim her first race on Thursday, Aug. 6, competing in the 200-meter individual medley at 10:17 a.m. After a day’s rest, she will swim the 400-meter individual medley on Aug. 8 at 10:12 a.m. Miller will conclude the meet with the 200-meter butterfly at 9:14 a.m., the following day. Depending on how she is feeling Miller may also compete in the 800-meter freestyle.
“I’m really excited to see what happens at nationals after this summer,” Miller said. “I am tapering right now to prepare for a championship meet. Hopefully it will be good and I will drop some time.”
To begin her summer of training, Miller headed to Miromar Lake, Florida for Open Water Nationals, another first for the swimming aficionado. While Miller grew up in a pool she had never given much thought to competing in a different body of water, like a lake outside of KU’s frequent open water sessions throughout the year.
Beth Morford, the massage therapist for Kansas swim and dive and part of team USA travel party, first proposed the idea while she was treating Miller at the NCAA Championships in March. Miller was intrigued and decided to mention the conversation to her coaches.
“One night it was just Clark, Jen and I at dinner during NCAA’s and so I brought up the idea of me doing open swim and Clark just lit up,” Miller said. “The next thing you know after NCAA’s I was training for Open Water Nationals.”
After only a week of rest, Miller got back in the water. The senior-to-be convinced the rest of the Kansas distance crew, with the addition of Haley Molden, to help her train in the weeks leading up to Open Water Nationals. On April 24 Miller competed in the 10K swim, a total distance of 6.2 miles, and finished with a time of 2:11:11.86.
While Miller broadened her swimming resume this year, she has also learned more about herself outside of the water.
“All summer I’ve been trying to not get so worked up about things I’m unsure of,” Miller said. “That’s been something that has always affected me. I’ve been working on being more laid back and being confident in who I am.”
At the end of US Nationals, the owner of four of Kansas’ all-time fastest marks will pack up and head back to Lawrence – perhaps with additional medals – for her final season as a Jayhawk.
KU will open the 2015-16 season with a pair of home meets, the first an intrasquad meet on Oct. 2, followed by the regular-season opener, a double dual featuring Denver and Missouri State, Oct. 23-24.
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