An Ode to Cody Miller and His Vlogs

cody miller - Olympic Trials

By Danny Whirlow, Swimming World College Intern. 

Every four years, when swimmers of all ages tune in to watch their Olympic heroes compete, viewers may forget that they’re witnessing only one part of those athletes’ lives. Certainly, the Olympic Games are a significant part, but their lives go on, even after viewers turn off the TV. After winning bronze and gold medals at the 2016 Rio games, breaststroker Cody Miller decided to exercise his creative muscles. He started a YouTube channel, and uploaded his first vlog on October 18th, 2017. The video’s title says it all: “CRAZY DAY OF AN OLYMPIC SWIMMER.”

“I’m just going to give it a shot and hope it goes well. I fully expect this video to not be amazing, to not be great by any means. This is my first go-around, but I’m really excited to see how it turns out. It could suck, it might suck, but it’s going to be fun!” 

This vlog, short for “video log” or “video blog,” now has 508,494 views. Over the course of eight minutes and thirty four seconds, Miller walks viewers through a day in his life, starting at 5 am. And, remarkably, it is just like any other swimmer’s day. Two tough practices. A lifting session. Deliciously healthy meals. Laughter with teammates. And despite having his likeness emblazoned next to the legendary Mark Spitz’s on the walls of Indiana University’s pool, where he trains no less, Miller doesn’t take himself too seriously. His passion for swimming and its people comes through in spite of an initially robotic delivery, and these qualities have turned his vlogs into an endearing experience that thousands tune into weekly.

Making Movies in the Digital Age

An adamant cinephile, Miller’s appreciation for the craft of filmmaking led him to the vlog as a medium for storytelling. Vlogs trade the vibrant prose of their close relative, the blog, for precisely imperfect visuals, and can be shot with anything from high end Canon cameras to fresh-off-the-shelf iPhones. Some vloggers will also employ a small production team, but Miller is a one-man-crew. He films and edits everything himself, though by no means is he a one-man-show; his vlogs sport an ensemble cast that would make even Tarantino jealous.

Now with 136K subscribers, and thousands of views of each vlog, it’s safe to say Miller has established a sizable following. But what’s remarkable about Miller’s videos is how they break down the apparent distance between Olympian and average swimmer. Though he’s often visible at formal meet-and-greets and from championship podiums, the vlogs build a far more personal link to Miller.

It Happens…

An essential element to this link is Miller’s willingness to be vulnerable. In the vlog “Did I FAIL at Swimming?,” Miller keeps the camera rolling despite a rough practice. He says to his viewers, “It’s easy when things are not going well to just give up and to quit and to lose sight of the bigger picture. And this morning, for a moment, I did lose sight of the bigger picture.” The Olympian wears his heart on his sleeve, deciding to use his footage “to show people that everyone struggles, and everyone has those moments of doubt.” He continues, “the way to climb out of those ditches is to keep the bigger picture in mind, to not put to much emphasis on one thing, and to just move forward.”

Viewers, even those who aren’t swimmers, can relate to this conflict. Furthermore, to see someone as successful as Cody Miller rise and fall can give perspective and hope to those who are struggling in the present.  Miller makes an active effort to encourage and inspire in his vlogs. Speaking to the Champion’s Mojo Podcast, Miller said “…I want people to have that ability to recognize flaws and recognize struggles, but then also still have a positive mindset when trying to work through those things.”

Former IU swimmer Cody Miller overcoming odds on way to 2016 OlympicsCredit: IndyStar Magazine

Cody Miller, the Fan

Another integral attribute to Miller’s connection with his audience is his love of swimming. Not just as a devoted athlete, but as a “hardcore” fan. In the vlog “DUEL in the POOL: ULTIMATE Swim Experience,” Miller reverently recounts the Duel in the Pool swim meets that began in 2003. He vividly recalls both watching his own idols, like breaststroker Brendan Hansen, swim on live television and cheering on “nail-bitingly close” relays when he himself swam for Team USA at the 2013 Duel in the Pool meet. Miller’s excitement, which many of his fans likely share, can barely be contained by the camera.

Miller’s passion for swimming extends beyond the races themselves and out to the people who swim them. In the past, he’s shouted out viewers who comment their swimming successes on his vlogs, giving them a moment to shine. He’s even dedicated a whole video to sharing the “inspiring real life story of a swimmer who made himself more talented.” The swimmer in question, Miller’s Indiana teammate Levi Brock.

Even now, as the United States grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, police brutality and racism, Miller continues to vlog for his fans. Not to distract or divert attention, but “[t]o give ourselves a short reprieve from the serious issues we face, not to ignore them, but rather to re-engage them with a fresh mind, renewed faith, and maybe a different perspective.” In these ways, Miller becomes a teammate to swimmers everywhere, sharing in their tribulations and triumphs. Thank you, Cody Miller. And congratulations on fatherhood.

-All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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