Kari Miller poses for a portrait during the 2012 Team USA Media Summit on May 15, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.
Kari Miller-Ortiz, the U.S. Paralympic sitting volleyball team’s mainstay libero for more than a decade, knew the perfect time to retire was after winning gold at the 2016 Rio Games. She wasn’t walking away from sitting volleyball, just transitioning to new opportunities.
She never imagined her path would lead to becoming a commentator, yet there she was on Monday being announced as part of NBC’s Paralympic Games Tokyo 2021 broadcast team. It will be her first Paralympics working as an analyst for sitting volleyball, and she is excited to share her knowledge of the sport with the world.
Miller-Ortiz will pair with announcer Tanith White, the retired ice dancer best known for winning silver at the 2006 Torino Games and multiple U.S. championships with Ben Agosto.
“I am super excited about this, I just think this is going to be so much fun,” Miller-Ortiz, 44, said. “When I retired from sitting volleyball, I felt it was the right time. As time went on, I started to feel a little disconnected from the team and sport. It was my life for so long, and then I was gone from it.
“I never thought about doing broadcasting, like never have done it at all, but when NBC asked me to consider auditioning for this, I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Miller-Ortiz and White were among 16 commentators announced by NBCUniversal on Monday, 99 days before the Paralympics are set to begin in Tokyo. In addition to Miller-Ortiz, fellow U.S. Paralympians Michelle Konkoly (swimming) and Mark Zupan (wheelchair rugby) will make their debuts as analysts, while Alana Nichols (wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby) will make her debut as an on-site reporter.
In addition, Paralympians Chris Waddell (track and field) and Paul Schulte (wheelchair basketball) are returning to the NBC booth.
Miller-Ortiz, who also won silver medals with Team USA at the London and Beijing Games, is happy to get back to the Paralympics. She wants to serve as a friendly expert for the audience, helping them understand the nuances of sitting volleyball.
“The sport is so much more sophisticated now than it was when I started in 2007,” Miller-Ortiz said. “I really want to help share what sitting volleyball is, give a better light on the athleticism that is involved. People don’t understand how athletic it is, to be playing and moving — constantly — and doing everything with your arms. I want to express that, let people know how much it takes to play the sport.”
Ironically, the most nerve-wracking part of this good news involved the NBC broadcast audition process. It was all handled remotely, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning Miller-Ortiz had to simulate commentating on a match without seeing her broadcast counterpart. Which meant, no non-verbal cues of when to jump in or prompts when to be quiet.
“It was crazy,” said Miller-Ortiz, a former Army sergeant who now works as a veteran’s affairs and persons of color outreach manager for Maximus. “I was online, practicing for them, nobody was near me. I had no vibe for how things were going. And I’ve never done this before! They told me that they didn’t expect perfection, just see how it all goes. I was pretty nervous, because I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m an athlete. I just decided to convey how much I care about what’s happening, make sure I can explain how things that are looking super easy out there are actually super difficult. How did that happen? Why is that exciting? It felt terrifying the first time.”
She’s currently working on her broadcasting skills through rehearsals, wanting to get more comfortable with her pacing. Her husband Jay Ortiz, also a veteran with dual tours with the Marine Corps and Army, helps out by listening and helping evaluate how she sounds.
“I think this is like when I started sitting volleyball — I knew nothing,” she said. “My mom threw volleyballs at me to help me practice. I am doing that now, by practicing with matches, and Jay is now helping. It’s an exciting time and I can’t wait for Tokyo.”