Zach Miller sits atop his motorcycle and watches the sun set. (Photo courtesy of Zach Miller)
When Zach Miller was a kid, he was constantly being told what he couldn’t do. Because the Silverthorne, Colorado, native had been born with cerebral palsy, even his classmates would express doubt when he would tell them about his future goals.
“I can remember all the way back to my days in middle school of wanting to own a motorcycle,” Miller said. “One of the things that I always thought was funny was that my classmates at the time told me that I would never have one. They said that my head was in the clouds. And for me to think that I would be riding a motorcycle one day, especially owning one, it was a bit far-fetched.”
Because of that, Miller made two promises to himself. One was to own a motorcycle, and the other was to grow a mustache. Both were actions he was told he would never be able to accomplish. Earlier this year, Miller, 23, did something else people didn’t think he could do when he made his Paralympic debut as a snowboarder. Now he’s well on his way to transforming those other promises into reality. Last year, Miller purchased his first motorcycle.
“I promised myself that one day I would ride my own motorcycle with a mustache,” Miller said. “While I’m still working on the mustache thing, cause it doesn’t look that good yet. It’s amazing to finally have a motorcycle and to be just enjoying it.”
Miller purchased a used 2016 Yamaha FZ09 850CC inline three-cylinder bike a little more than a year ago. It was a present to himself as he continued his training for the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022.
“I don’t think I really knew exactly what I was getting into when I got it,” Miller said. “I bought it because in the years leading up to China, I was focused so much on snowboarding that I realized I didn’t really have a lot of good hobbies that got me outside. I would do training, I would go skateboarding and stuff like that. But as far as like, just going outside to clear my mind if I was having a long day or something, I wanted something new that would give me a challenge.”
Around that same time, Miller happened to find his development coach, Daniel Gale, watching a motocross race on TV and asked him what the best way was to get started.
Miller ended up taking the motorcycle safety foundation course.
“I was hooked,” Miller said. “So now I’m a few thousand dollars deep into this hobby and just loving every second of it.”
Despite his training and snowboarding competitions, Miller has put almost 4,000 miles on his motorcycle in the past year. Many of those outings can be seen on his social media accounts.
“One of the things that I have always been attracted to in life is a sense of freedom,” Miller said. “Growing up with cerebral palsy it’s been rather difficult trying to find new, new physical hobbies that I can do well in. For the longest time, I actually thought that I was going to be too weak to ride a motorcycle. You need a lot of self-control and you need a lot of strength to be able to ride them safely. So always kind of a little bit nervous about it.”
Instead of letting that scare him off, Miller said the challenge of controlling the machine attracted him to it.
There is another factor that drew Miller to riding motorcycles. It was the sense of freedom that he could previously only find while on the snow.
“One of the things that I always liked about it back in my earliest days of snowboarding was that I was wearing head-to-toe gear,” Miller said. “And so if you didn’t already know who I was, you wouldn’t recognize me in the crowd of other people wearing all this snowboard and ski gear.
“And I liked, the anonymity of it. It wasn’t just, ‘Hey, there’s Zach, the kid with a disability snowboarding.’ It was, ‘Hey, look at that kid snowboarding. He’s really getting after it. And it looks like he’s having a lot of fun.’ It gave me a huge sense of freedom. It was just me and a snowboard and the mountains. And I’ve found that riding my motorcycle gave me a new sense of that same freedom.”
Despite Miller’s new infatuation with motorbikes, he hasn’t forgotten about snowboarding. He already has his eyes getting himself ready for the next four years of competition.
“I’m actually in the middle of a couple of different meetings with my coaches and some support staff through the U.S. team,” Miller said. “We are planning on going down to the (U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center) here pretty soon in the next couple of weeks and starting kind of a new plan moving forward. My goal for the next four years is to start establishing good nutritional habits.”