January 12, 2006

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Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun, by Bode Miller with Jack McEnany (Villard Books, 2005, 215 pages)

B

If you’ve heard of Bode Miller, you probably know he’s an Olympic skier from New Hampshire, and, if you caught him on Leno, you might know about the outhouse.

Miller grew up on a 450-acre resort in the North Country and spent a fair portion of his childhood without electricity or plumbing. There was an outhouse. Not only that, but the kids were home-schooled, they all have weird names, and Bode’s father won the John Lennon Peace Prize in 1982 for inventing the T.U.R.T.L.E. (The United Resolution To Love Earth) Party.

But about the skiing.

In March 2005 Bode Miller gave the United States its first overall World Cup alpine skiing win in 22 years.

In 2002 he won two silver medals at the Olympics in Salt Lake City, where he was the first U.S. medallist ever in the men’s giant slalom.

Not bad for a home-schooled outhouse boy from New Hampshire.

In fact Miller credits much of his success to his free and easy, and nature-savvy, childhood.

“I looked around and never saw anyone sweat a thing,” Bode writes, “and so I got hardwired for the same outlook.” He doesn’t even sweat the fact that he’s become some sort of poster child for outhouses.

“I’m a citizen of the United States of America, and to me that means that life’s purpose is the pursuit of happiness – ‘pursuit’ being the operative word. Happiness isn’t an excuse to slack; it’s an opportunity to be your best, to create a life’s work, to make your mark,” Bode writes, which in his case means strapping sticks on your feet, putting on ski boots three sizes too small (enhances controllability; makes his feet look like stumps), and flinging yourself down a snowy hill.

Skiing’s in the family – Bode’s grandmother was a ski racer in the 1940s – but as a kid he expected he’d grow up to play pro tennis or soccer; he was the state tennis champ in high school, and not nearly so accomplished at skiing. But the speed of downhill racing lured him.

His former coach, Chip Cochrane, has noted that most “alpine racers focus on technique first, speed second, with the idea that speed will follow technique. For Bode it’s just the opposite.” Read enough newspaper accounts and you will notice the words “unconventional” and “reckless” associated with Bode Miller a lot – and the words “DNF [did not finish]” and “disqualified,” too. As Bode explains in the book, he’d rather go as fast as Bode-ly possible and wipe out than rein himself in.

Bode: Go Fast, Be Good, Have Fun is not great literature for the ages; it is, however, an agile read, a nice account of how one excellent athlete started out toddling around the north woods and grew up to win medals. It has a sprinkling of childhood stories, lots of musing on what makes a good athlete/competitor/skier/person, and of course much recounting of various ski events.

Bode Miller is director of skiing at Bretton Woods, but this February he’ll be busy competing at the Olympics in Turin. Keep an eye out.

— Lisa Parsons