Swimmer overcomes late start in the sport
By Steve Buffery ,Toronto Sun
Canadian swimmer Erin Miller, seen here in a preliminary heat in the 200 m butterfly at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, finished a disappointing fifth in Wednesday's finals. (REUTERS)
GUADALAJARA - National team swimmer Erin Miller grew up swimming around the house. Literally swimming around the house.
It wasn’t a typical childhood to say the least.
The University of Alberta Swim Club athlete, who qualified for two finals at these Pan Am Games, was raised on a boat from the time of her first diaper until she was 14 years old.
Her parents, who met in Edmonton, were an adventurous pair who decided to spend a couple of years travelling the world. That couple of years turned into 20, and three kids, all born in different countries.
Her brother Kyle was born first in England, followed by Erin, in 1986, on Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands, and finally, her sister Robin was born in St. Maarten, another island in the Caribbean.
Their first home was a 36-footer called ‘Ta-tle’, and when Robin was born, the family bought the ‘Symbio’, a 62-footer. To the kids, it was like moving to a mansion. A floating mansion.
“We all had our own rooms!” said Miller, with a laugh.
Though she grew up an island girl, Miller wasn’t totally devoid of Canadian influence. Her parents (dad Don worked for a sail company and mom Anne is an artist) are Canadian, of course, and in the summer time, during the hurricane season, they would take the boat up the Atlantic seaboard to Nova Scotia and Bermuda.
Miller said she’s certainly experienced every aspect of living on a boat in the Caribbean, including hurricanes.
“Boats are actually safer at sea during a big storm,” she explained. “We were in a few, but we never had any big problems. But I have seen the damage they can cause. I’ve seen boats on shore, stacked up on each other.”
You might think growing up surrounded by water would be a perfect environment for a girl intent on becoming a competitive swimmer.
But the reality was, there weren’t any real swim clubs in St. Maarten, so Miller spent most of her activity time paddling around the boat. When she was 10, Miller watched the 1996 Olympic swimming on TV and decided right then she wanted to be a butterflier.
“That’s all I really wanted to do,” she said. “I wanted to race.”
It wasn’t until the family moved back to Canada in 2000, to Vernon, B.C. when Miller was finally able to get serious about her swimming and she joined the Vernon Kootenay Swim Club.
Life in Canada was a considerable culture shock for the Miller kids, especially school. The last few years in St. Maarten, Erin was home-schooled on the boat, so switching to a school with hundreds of kids was definitely something to get used to. She missed being able to set an intense pace in her studies, and then take a three to four-day weekend in St. Maarten. Of course it wasn’t that way in Vernon.
“My brother and I saw that as a real inconvenience,” she said, with a laugh.
Her career took off in Vernon, but compared to other world-level swimmers, she was a late starter, not joining a club until 14.
“When you start late, you’re always chasing people,” she said. “Other people start when they’re 10 and stuff.”
Miller’s life came full circle a few years back when she decided to follow her coach Richard Millns to Edmonton, her parent’s town.
Now Edmonton, with its intense winter cold, was even more of a culture shock for the Caribbean girl than Vernon.
“My parents made fun of me when I chose to move there,” said Miller. “They looked at each other and said, ‘Do you think she’ll survive the winter?’
“Growing up in the Caribbean, I’m not a fan of the snow. But it’s worthwhile,” she said. “Living through the Edmonton winter makes me feel more Canadian.”
Miller’s performance at these Games has been a disappointment. She qualified for finals in both the 100 and 200 butterfly at the Scotiabank Aquatics Centre, but placed fourth in the 100 (1:00.49) and fifth in the 200 (2:16.10) on Wednesday night, in times well slower than her personal bests (1:00.00 and 2:12.34) set earlier this year at the summer nationals.
Miller missed the entire 2008-09 season with a serious shoulder injury and only started rounding into form in 2010. But her good showing at the 2011 summer nationals shows that she is a legit contender to make the 2012 London Olympic team. All she has to do is rediscover her form.