Zach Miller competes in the Men's Adaptive Snowboard Final Presented by Toyota during the 2018 Dew Tour in Breckenridge, Colorado. (Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Zach Miller may not have access to snow all the time. But he will always have concrete and mountains.
“I picked up a couple other sports to help me train,” he said. “A lot of us (snowboarders) skateboard, because it’s a similar feeling.”
Miller is an up-and-coming member of the U.S. Paralympics Snowboarding National Team. He reached new heights in 2018 when he collected eight world cup medals at the age of 21. Now a couple years older, he lives in Colorado training alongside some of the best winter sport Paralympians on Team USA.
During the offseason, he and his teammates will swap out their snowboards for skateboards at an asphalt skate park in Denver. Sure, Miller will hit the gym to build muscle, but that’s not all he does.
“Skateboarding, in my opinion, is a lot harder, and it’s a lot more painful,” he said. “You fall on concrete, and that hurts more than snow.”
Miller said the skate parks in Denver have courses that kind of simulate snowboarding. The parks have rollers and big turns to generate speed, helping make him faster on the snow.
“I slack in speed due to my CP,” he said. CP stands for cerebral palsy, a condition that affects one’s ability to maintain control of their muscles. Miller said his muscles are underdeveloped, and it takes more work to build strength and strengthen his balance and coordination.
“I think that my approach to competition has always been, if you can make your weaknesses your strengths, then all you have left is strengths. That's a hard person to beat.”
With an occasional pit stop at Chick-Fil-A in Denver, Miller couples his skateboarding with riding a mountain bike. It’s a new “thing” for him in an area known for being a mile high above sea level on Pikes Peak, but Miller said a team-building activity at the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) in Winter Park, Colorado, introduced him and his teammates to riding a bike.
“We got to rent some mountain bikes, and I fell in love with that sport, as well,” he said.
Much like skateboarding, mountain biking comes with its fair share of injuries.
“I picked up a nice scar that I still have on my knee because I got a little too confident there for a second.”
like skateboarding, Miller said mountain biking has been shown to help his speed and balance on the snow.
Miller, though, is grateful for all Colorado has offered him in snowboarding. He found a community of persons with disabilities, and a family in Daniel Gale and his wife Amy Purdy, who run Adaptive Action Sports. AAS is a nonprofit in Copper Mountain, Colorado, designed to help adaptive athletes get involved in snowboarding and skateboarding.
Miller met Gale at the Ski Spectacular in Breckenridge, Colorado, and from there, Miller was drawn to snowboarding from Gale’s and Purdy’s friendliness and talents. Miller, even, spent some time living with Purdy and Gale, and riding one of Purdy’s old snowboards, a 145 GNU Pickle. It was “a serious upgrade” from the board he was using.
“Amy gave me my first really nice board, and then Dan just immediately took me under his wing,” Miller said.
Gale helped Miller grow up and into the sport and be a part of AAS. He taught Miller about public speaking.
“Everybody calls me a mini Dan now because I've adopted so many things,” Miller said. “I've adopted his style. I've adopted a lot of the same mannerisms. He’s … kind of been my dad in the mountains.”
Miller’s goal of training in the offseason is to make him more dangerous right out of the gate in races. He said he “prides” himself on his starts, and he has even built a reputation for explosive starts.
The Team USA athlete said he likes to nab the so-called in races. A racer wins the by getting to turn No. 1 first.
“It's a big thing in snowboarding,” Miller said. “It's a lot harder to pass than it is to keep the lead. For me, that is one of the things that I really wanted to be my strength.”