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Good Sport

Chris A. Weber

Jason Miller (Tom Altany photo)

On The Fly

Pitt swimmer fuels a medal machine

Water wings and kiddie pools? That may be fine for other preschoolers, but not Jason Miller. A good swimmer already, showing flashes of raw talent, the 4-year-old wants to try something new. He jumps into the swimming pool, eager to use his own arms as wings. It’s his first attempt to tackle one of the toughest strokes of them all.

“Look, Dad, I’m doing the butterfly!” he yells, flailing about, going nowhere fast. His father catches the action on video as Jason comes up for air and smiles, a young boy who has just discovered an athletic career.

The butterfly stroke resembles a powerful wing movement. The arms move together; outstretched above the head, they pull down and back along the torso, lifting the chest and propelling the swimmer forward, with help from a whip-like kick. Out. Down. Lift. Out. Down. Lift. Soon the swimmer is flying in water.

Today Miller is a long way from that boyhood pool in Mechanicsburg, Pa. A lean 6’2”, he is senior cocaptain of the men’s swimming and diving team at the University of Pittsburgh. During an afternoon practice at Trees Hall, he reflects upon his preschool effort with a grin. “It didn’t look anything like the butterfly,” he says, as the sounds of rebounding springboards and splashing swimmers echo across the pool. “But it’s what I wanted to do.”

Miller’s ambition paid off: 11 All-Big East Conference honors (10 in the butterfly), including an individual title in the 200-meter fly (1:47.75) as a freshman; team-best times in the 100- and 200- meter fly events the past three seasons; and, most recently, a qualifying spot in the 100-meter fly at the 2008 Olympic trials.

“Jason has tremendous ‘feel’ in the water—the way he searches for still water with his hands and pulls them through,” says Pitt Swimming and Diving Head Coach Chuck Knoles, six-time Big East coach of the year. “He’s among the best in the conference.”

That’s high praise from the coach of one of the most successful programs in Big East and Pitt athletics history. The men’s team has won eight of the past 10 conference crowns, 11 of 15 overall. The women’s team broke four school records at the 2005 Big East Championships and is among the athletic program’s top academic performers annually.

Out of the water, the affable Miller is a leader on campus. Elected by his peers, he serves as president of Pitt’s 35-member student-athlete advisory committee, which reviews NCAA compliance issues while working with school officials to better Panther athletics. He’s also active in Phi Sigma Pi National Honor Fraternity and has chaired its new member committee. A history and sociology major and Big East Academic All-Star, Miller will graduate this spring and plans to pursue a master’s degree in Pitt’s School of Education.

For now, though, this swimmer has work to do in the pool—flying toward the finish of a remarkable collegiate athletic career, with his sights set on Beijing and the 2008 Summer Olympics.

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