Zach Miller is the reigning world champion in dual banked slalom, a non-Paralympic event, and also a 2019 world bronze medalist in snowboard cross. The Coloradan will make his Paralympic debut at the 2022 Games. Miller was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 6 months old and took up snowboarding at 8.
As part of our preparation for the 2022 Games, NBC Olympics sent questionnaires to multiple athletes to learn more about their lives on and off the snow or ice. Here’s what we found out about Miller:
Zach Miller, Snowboarding
Events: Banked Slalom and Snowboard Cross (SB-LL2)
Age: 22 (23 on March 10)
Hometown: Silverthorne, Colo.
Residence: Silverthorne, Colo.
Past Games: N/A
Family & Upbringing
Tell us about your family.
"Two supportive parents, an older brother and two half-siblings."
Who do you live with?
"My coach, Daniel Gale, and his wife, Amy Purdy."
How influential were your parents in your athletic career?
"My parents always encouraged me to work hard and be competitive. They kept me in multiple extracurricular programs and supported me when I pursued soccer and snowboarding."
Did you attend college?
"Currently in college at Devry University, majoring in computer information systems."
Do you have another job?
"I make sandwiches at Cheba Hut in Dillon to help support my snowboarding career."
Top spots in your hometown?
Blue Moon Bakery, and people definitely need to check out the ice castles or take a gondola ride to the top of Keystone, the view is amazing! Feel free to relax with some fly fishing on the Blue River that goes through town.
How has your hometown shaped who you are today?
I’m within a 30-minute drive to four of the best resorts Colorado has to offer! Silverthorne has given me lots of opportunities to pursue snowboarding and a close-knit community of locals has given me some great friends."
Where else have you lived?
"Most of my family lives in Florida and have season passes to all the theme parks, so it’s always a good time when I get to visit them!"
Lifestyle & Training
Typical training day?
Wake up at 7 a.m., drink a protein smoothie, head to Copper Mountain at 8 a.m., warm up with the team, then gear check and meet at the lift at 9 a.m.. Ride till noon, break for lunch, and hit the gym, or my favorite, the Woodward barn! Then get back home to change and clock into work by 4 p.m.
How much time to you train and sleep?
"Five to six hours of training with six to seven hours of sleep."
What's your favorite workout?
"Plyometrics, or anything that involves sprinting, jumping, and being quick and explosive."
What's the most grueling workout you've ever done?
"I once did a full hypertrophic upper-body workout AFTER completing a Navy SEAL entrance exam – minus the swimming. I blew out both my arms, and ended up with a nasty case of Rhabdomyolysis that almost shut down my kidneys and forced me to miss a World Cup."
Surprising things regarding training for the Paralympics?
"No resorts have boardercross courses up because they’re too dangerous for the public, so we have to get creative and build our skills and techniques in the park, superpipe or backcountry!"
Any out-of-the-ordinary or experimental training?
"I use my PC and video games to keep my focus and response time up, and head to the shooting range to build coordination and focus."
Experience during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?
"We were competing at World Cup finals in Norway when everything shut down. We had to scramble to get tickets home before the border closed."
Have you ever been seriously injured?
"Suffered a traumatic brain injury at my very first World Cup in Aspen, Colorado. Caught an edge coming off a jump and landed on my head, suffering a concussion so severe I forgot I had an older brother."
Any nutrition plan? (e.g., calories, meals)?
"Protein smoothie in the morning, chicken, veggies and rice/noodles for lunch with a protein shake, then steak or burgers or more chicken with some veggies and a treat for dinner. I love making bacon mac and cheese and taking it to the hill, easy to reheat and never gets old!"
"You ever had a cosmic brownie?!"
Reflection & Paralympics
Earliest memory of playing sport?
"I was 8 years old getting on the lift at Winter Park to go skiing when I saw a group of snowboarders going through the park. It looked like so much fun, I told my instructor I had to try it. As I got better I heard of a regional USASA race I could enter to try my hand at racing, and when I won it, I knew I would be a snowboarder."
Earliest memory of watching Olympics/Paralympics?
"It was watching our girls dominate in beach volleyball when I was in middle school watching with friends. The amount of pride and excitement I felt was amazing, but I had no idea the Paralympics even existed."
Specific breakthrough moment?
"I realized I could compete at a high level once I got my first medal in Dubai – yes, Dubai. It was the beginning of a breakout season where I went on to win eight medals for the U.S., including one at the world championships!"
What would you change about your sport?
"More people! It’s more fun when you have big brackets and can go four at a time."
Who is your coach?
"My developmental coach Daniel Gale is practically my second dad. I met him at a very young age at Ski Spectacular and have worked with him for more than a year now."
Who do you socialize with most within your sport?
"My teammates! We’re all close friends."
Most interesting teammate?
"Mike Shultz. After his accident, he was told he wouldn’t ride again because the technology behind prosthetics just wasn’t there. He went back to his garage, and started designing what would be the best prosthetics for action sports in the market today!"
Close friends with any competitors?
"I’m good friends with Ben Tudhope, a kid from Australia that’s my age and is the only other rider with cerebral palsy on the circuit."
"Keith Gabel and Ben Tudhope. We’re always fighting for podium positions but you never know what’s gonna happen! We’re super friendly about it, and give fist bumps in the gates before every race."
Have you ever worked with a sports psychologist?
"I love working with sports psychologists, they’ve helped me understand so much about myself in competition and have helped me learn techniques to ensure an optimal, consistent performance under pressure."
Big obstacle that you've overcome?
"Learning to slow down and listen to my body. CP is very hard to deal with when pushing yourself, and I’ve had to learn to listen to my body and prioritize stretching and recovery so I don’t get hurt."
Biggest fear when competing?
"I worry that at any time, I could lose snowboarding forever. I’ve already lost several teammates and friends to racing, and it’s hard to be confronted with the harsh reality of how dangerous it is to do what we do."
Olympic/Paralympic role model?
"I can’t name just one, since so many people have inspired me to be a part of this!"
Summer Olympic buddy?
"Just excited to join all of them as a fellow teammate at the 2022 Games!"
Greatest influence within/outside sport?
"My coach Daniel Gale. He took me under his wing and taught me how do be a great athlete on and off the snow. More importantly, he taught me to have a good attitude and laugh even when things suck."
Advice you'd give a young athlete?
"Save up! It’s expensive but it’s worth it!"
Play any other sports?
"I love soccer! Played it all my life and the footwork helps me when I’m on the board too!"
Which Summer Olympic/Paralympic event would you like to try?
"Handball. That sport looks crazy fun!"
Ever been told you wouldn't succeed?
"Almost everybody had something to say when I told them I was going to be a snowboarder. My doctors, friends, and even teachers told me to 'focus on safer routes.' I understand that a lot of their concerns were rooted in truth, but I found ways to play to my strengths and find speed without weight."
Any pre-competition rituals?
"Nope. Every day is a different day."
How did you discover adaptive sport?
"Through the hospital sports program at Children’s Hospital. My doctors recommended it to me since I was so competitive with my therapy."
Tell us about your impairment.
"I have left hemiplegic cerebral palsy, it’s congenital."
Passions & Personality
Are you interested in gaming?
"Rocket League, Rainbow Six, CS:GO, VALORANT, Formula 1, Dirt 2.0, Assetto Corsa, anything VR, I can go on."
Do you have a favorite gamer?
"Canadian from Rainbow Six. Dude's a beast."
Any teams/athletes that you are a fan of?
"Colorado Avalanche, and Barcelona!"
Please list any other languages you speak.
"Learning sign language! I work with a [person who is] deaf/mute at my job and he’s helping me learn when I get stuck."
Do you have a nickname?
"Zatch Milar. I printed my name on one of my race boards and my coach intentionally mispronounced it to tease me, it ended up sticking more than it should have."
How do you unwind after a competition?
"Video games. Forces me to think about something else and reset without letting me get sleepy."
Do you have any hidden talents?
Do you collect anything?
"Video games. I’ve always loved them. It’s pretty big."
Do you support any charities or nonprofits?
"I do everything I can to give back to Adaptive Action Sports since they’re the nonprofit that got me to where I am today."
What would you do if you weren't an athlete?
"Probably working on computers."
Do you have any fears or pet peeves?
"Hate spiders, and don’t like it when people crack their knuckles excessively. Also, please chew with your mouth closed."
What is on your bucket list?
"Drive an F1 car, go basejumping, wingsuiting, riding a motorcycle around a MotoGP circuit, and driving/shooting a tank."
Personal motto/inspirational quote?
"I’m here to add life to my days, not days to my life!"
Woman that inspires you?
"My mom. She’s worked so hard for everything, especially me. She’s made mistakes like everyone else, but she always keeps a level head and problem solves. She’s without a doubt the biggest influence on who I am as a person."
"Video games, shooting, and riding motorcycles. Friends got me into all of them, and I think they make them better, too, although I don’t mind doing them myself. Video games are competitive and social, shooting keeps me focused and gives me something I can always improve on, and motorcycles are the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life. My coach got me into them recently and we go on rides together all the time."
"Jon Bellion. Really captures the highs and the lows with so much talent."
Music of choice while training?
"It’s really just a rock 'n' roll or dubstep playlist depending on what mood I’m in."
Do you sing or play an instrument?
"Only in the shower!"
"Pajamas or joggers with hoodies. I like being comfy."
Five must-have items in your gym bag?
"Headphones, protein shake, water bottle, HR monitor and snacks."
If you could hear from one celeb, who would it be?
"Max Verstappen, lead driver for Red Bull Racing in F1; if you meant a TV celebrity, then Ryan Reynolds, he’s my man crush."
What is favorite meme/GIF that best describes you?
"The dog sitting in a house on fire saying 'this is fine.'"
Favorite social account/person?
"Jerry of the day, kookslams, and F1."
NBC Olympics Research contributed