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USOC chooses Tom Miller as top volunteer

July 6, 2017
By LOU REUTER - Senior Sports Writer ( , Lake Placid News

SARANAC LAKE - Tom Miller admits he's never been a really good speedskater. But when it comes to coaching young athletes the sport, he's pretty darn good.

Last month, the United States Olympic Committee honored the Lake Placid resident for his efforts, naming Miller the country's Volunteer Coach of the Year.

Miller grew up around speedskating, and although he never reached the competitive level of his older brother Mike, who was an alternate for the 1980 US Olympic team, he's found that being a speedskating coach is a much better fit.

Article Photos

Volunteer speedskating coach Tom Miller sits at his desk at North Star Industries in Saranac Lake while working at his paid career as a staff trainer.
(News photo β€” Lou Reuter)

Miller has been working with a group of talented athletes in Lake Placid over the past several years, and his main three pupils, Esther Munoz, Fletcher Codd and Sydney Terpening, have recently moved on to a higher level of training as they all pursue the Olympic dream.

Munoz, a 2016 Lake Placid High School graduate, and Codd, who just graduated last month, are two of the top junior skaters in the nation and are furthering their careers with the FAST Program in Salt Lake City, Utah. Meanwhile Terpening, who has one more year of high school remaining, will continue with the sport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

"My program for the elite speedskaters is an 11 out of 12 months program," Miller said. "They get April off and then we start back up. For the older kids, it is those kids who really want to go someplace, and that's actually what the USOC recognition was for - the success we've had in 2016 with Esther, Fletcher and Sydney."

Miller was first chosen as US Speedskating's top volunteer coach, and that sport's governing body then submitted his name to the USOC, which then selected Miller from all the volunteer coaches from every sport across the country for the honor. It marked the third time the sport of speedskating had the USOC's top volunteer coach, and the second year in a row. Carl Cepuran, an Academy for Skating Excellence coach in the Chicago area, received the same recognition a season ago.

"We went back-to-back years. It's nice getting recognized for it," Miller said. "As a volunteer, you don't look for anything like this. It's one of the nice little extras you don't expect. I do what I do, I like what I do. I like to travel and watch the kids improve.

"It's just a really nice recognition," Miller added. "It's nice to sit back and say 'OK, I was selected the best voluntary coach in the whole county.' Yeah, it made me smile, stand a little taller, but the credit goes to the three kids who allowed me to work with them, listened and are going as far as they can."

Miller is originally from Western New York and moved to Lake Placid after his parents fell in love with the area. He said his father Frank played a big role in his speedskating days as a child, as well as his passion for coaching today.

"It's funny because I've had a lot of coaches out west saying I should be paid, but I look at this sport as a hobby. For me, it's about giving back. My father, it was amazing the deals and stuff he would do to make sure we all had what we had for skating. Because of my father, it's always been about giving back. I've never thought of myself as a professional coach.

"When we moved up here, my older brother here was with the World Cup. My family came up here for the Olympics. My mom (Nancy) was the chief doping regulator for the '80 Olympics speedskating events. After the Olympics they bought one of the trailers that was used for housing officials, bought property in Vermontville and they settled up here. We've been here ever since.

Lake Placid was once one of the top speedskating sites in the United States, and Miller is still looking to bring the heyday of the sport to the Olympic Village. In addition to working with the older skaters, he's turning youngsters onto the sport while working with the Adirondack Speedskating Club, which has received funding from the Uihlein Foundation. Miller said that type of support is a big deal in an effort to bring speedskating back to prominence here.

"In 1989, John Dimon and I saw the need to redevelop the club, which we did," Miller said. "This past winter, we started a children's program called Henry's Kids, and averaged between eight and 10 kids," Miller said. "Thanks to the donation through the Uihlein Foundation, we were able to buy 30 pairs of skates so the kids don't have to invest in skates right away. This year's donation is going to go toward getting club uniforms for them.

"We are putting "HK" on the back of the calf, and hopefully, as they grow up and progress in the program, it will always show who was part of the Henry's Kids speedskating program," Miller added. "What people don't realize is Henry Uihlein founded the Adirondack Speedskating Club in 1908."

Just last week, the club acquired new safety mats for the outdoor Olympic Speedskating Oval, and the group also recently added a state-of-art timing system, which are both steps toward upping the level of competition in Lake Placid, which is one more objective of Miller's.

"My goal is within two to four years being able to bring back a world championship," Miller said. "You can still do junior worlds outdoors, and masters worlds outdoors. The ISU still does outdoor championships on outdoor rinks so having an updated timing system, having the matting system gets us one step further. Also we can bring in the America Cup series to Lake Placid. US Speedskating has been right with us on this. We wanted this to be done. They want programs back in Lake Placid for speedskating."

Although Lake Placid's top three talented skaters have moved on, Miller said he has two more older prospects coming to the area this year to pursue the sport, and hopefully, the trend will continue.

"I already have a young gentleman from Madison, Wisconsin here for two months, and I have a young lady from Toronto coming coming this month and staying through the winter," he said. "When it comes elite training I have to see something special in that athlete before I'm going to commit so much of my time to it, and so far I think I've been 100 percent. Esther, Fletcher and Sydney have gone above and beyond what I figured they could have done, and I think whatever they set their minds on for goals, they will definitely attain.

"I'm not going anywhere. I want to see the program grow back," he continued. "When I was young, I was just a Joe Schmo average skater, but I definitely love coaching. I think speedskating is one of the most graceful sports, and for me it's about watching the athletes, helping make the athletes better - be the best they can be. I always want to be that way in whatever I do. I always want to be some type of teacher, a trainer. That's my mentality."



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