Nov. 12, 2013
By Lucy Negash, `15
A heart for love, a peace sign for hope, an acorn for a long and healthy life, an angel to watch over you and the world, because the future is in your hands.
This saying along with five small stones goes with University of Notre Dame women's swimmer Katie Miller wherever she goes, pool or not. This special memento was given to her by one of her high school coaches before her last state meet in February.
"Being able to have all of my coaches that had been with me since day one there to watch me win my last high school race ever at the state championship meant so much. The atmosphere was unreal; I get goosebumps even thinking about it now." Miller says.
Miller's journey up to that moment and even in college thus far has been built on a strong foundation of supportive coaches, parents and a lot of untamed passion and energy. Miller's mom put in her the water at the age of two, and since then she loved hanging around her neighborhood pool, swimming for her team and then eventually coaching and giving private lessons to the younger children in her area.
"Swimming just came naturally to me, and once I started doing it competitively in middle school and high school I got sucked into it."
Since then, the vivacious individual medley (IM) swimmer didn't stop. She came to Notre Dame for the perfect balance of academics and athletics, as many students do, and she wanted to challenge herself by studying mechanical engineering. Coming from an engineering family, she always knew that she wanted to study prosthetics and robotics
Miller says, "even though I know I'll always have a tough class schedule with engineering, I still have big goals when it comes to swimming. I want to make a big impact in the NCAA's and make a statement with the next few years I have here. I really look up to [teammate] Emma Reaney as a role model for where I want to go."
Even though it is still relatively early in the season, Miller has already established herself as a strong and fiercely competitive swimmer. Thus far she has won four individual events in three meets, with victories in the 500 free and 100 back helping the Irish sweep Virginia Tech and Pitt this past Saturday. All the while, she continues to channel her exuberance and energy into her swimming.
The IM, Miller says, is her favorite event because of its constantly changing pace. She is 2-0 in the 200 IM this year.
"I love the IM because it gives me a chance to train in four different strokes instead of one. I get bored way too easily, and I love the change. If I had to pick, the freestyle would be favorite stroke, but it changes every day."
When Miller prepares for her races, IM or not, she always follows her small quirky rituals and draws from the wise advice and support she has received from her coaches and teammates. A deep breath and a quick lick of her fingers is all she needs to become focused, centered and ready to swim.
"I take a deep breath to kind of slow everything down, and as weird as it is I lick my fingertips right before I step up on the blocks. I'm not sure when and where I started doing that but it's become a habit of mine," Miller recalls.
As Miller prepares for her races, she always thinks back to something one of her long-time coaches told her about her work ethic and the possibilities in front of her, both in swimming and in life.
"My coach always said that he was proud of me for getting to the top [as a successful swimmer], but that it was more fun watching me get there rather than seeing me meet my goal. He said that I always did it my own way and worked hard while still having fun along the way." Miller remembers.
At the end of her long high school career, Miller was also reminded by a former coach that the world was her oyster, and that she could go anywhere and do anything she wanted to if she put her mind to it. That kind of drive led her to Notre Dame, helped her find a future career goal in robotic prosthetics, and will certainly lead her to more success as the swim season continues. Miller can't believe that almost three months of her freshman year are over and that the rest of college will fly by, but swimming will always be a part of her life no matter where she goes.
"I don't fear the day when college ends," Miller says. "I fear the day when I stop swimming."