On the river of life, there are rowers and spectators

Photo by Candace diCarlo

While sitting in a barber shop in Cologne, Germany, in 1998, Garrett Miller was at first startled to see his face staring back at him on a large poster. He quickly recognized the poster as an advertisement for an upcoming world championship.

In Europe, rowing is a big league sport and Miller, a member of the United States National Team, is considered a celebrity in some circles. It is not unusual for the 6-foot, 4-inch Miller to spend an hour or two signing autographs for eager fans. "I'm recognized all over Europe and I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy it," laughed Miller.

But Miller, who set an American record and placed second with 5:44.1 in the overall Crash-B competition - a winter indoor rowing event held in Boston - almost missed his chance to pursue rowing.

As a freshman at Philadelphia's LaSalle University High School, Miller decided to try out for the crew team. Out of 150 students trying out, only 28 would make the grade. Miller was number 28. But it wasn't a decisive choice. "It was between me and another kid. They flipped a coin, it came up heads, and I had heads," said Miller.

Although he spent his first two years of high school rowing in the last boat, Miller was determined to excel at the sport. He trained constantly, pushing his limits, and by his junior year he started to reap the benefits. After making LaSalle's varsity eight, he was selected to the Junior U.S. National Team, "surprising everyone."

He quickly found stardom, winning the bronze medal in the men's pair and giving the United States its first-ever medal in the competition. The following year he claimed the silver and "was in the pipeline to be developed for the Olympics," he said.

Miller, a three-time member of the U.S. National Team, is dreaming about Olympic gold in the 2000 Games to be held in Sydney, Australia. The team has won the last two World Championships, and Miller believes the team's "chances are about as good as they can get" to bring the gold home for the first time since 1964.

But he is quick to add that head coach Mike Teti, whom he describes as "rowing in a nutshell," is responsible for making the team what it is. "He understands the psyche of the American athlete. He knows that the biggest competition that the U.S. faces is not Germany but Wall Street," which is luring American rowers from the water to high-powered careers as they graduate from good colleges. And Miller should know: the Wharton senior finance major has already accepted an offer to work at Goldman Sachs.

But despite his upcoming job and his Olympic aspirations, Miller has only one thing in sight right now: the upcoming Penn season and helping the team to repeat as Ivy champs in the Eastern Sprints. As commodore of the team, Miller is a true leader who "leads by his work effort and his drive," said Penn crew coach Stan Bergman. "We're lucky to have him; he could have gone anywhere he wanted."

Bergman's reputation is what convinced Miller that Penn was the place for him, "Stan Bergman and Penn rowing are mythological in Philadelphia," said Miller. "It was an honor to come here and be rowing for him because he is the best rowing coach in the country by far."

It was Bergman's experience that helped Miller, who concedes that his fatal flaw is that of overtraining, to understand that rest and recovery are as important as training. Miller credits his time with Penn with allowing him to "mature as an athlete not only physically but emotionally and mentally, to handle the stress of world competitions."

Although competing with the National Team allows him the opportunity to travel the globe, Miller is especially fond of the river on which he learned his stroke. "There is nothing else in the world like Boathouse Row. The Schuylkill, there is so much history there. That is why I have a hard time leaving Philadelphia."

And he might not have, had that coin landed on tails.

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Originally published on April 1, 1999