COPPER MOUNTAIN, Colo. — Taking a quick look at his bloodied and bruised right elbow, Bode Miller seemed amused, mildly impressed that hitting the base of a ski gate broke skin under several layers of clothing. A few moments later, he pointed to his left pinkie and made an unofficial diagnosis. Broken finger.
It was all in a day’s downhill training at the US Ski Team Speed Center.
“The elbow . . . my finger . . . that’s the kind of thing that just happens pretty regularly,” said Miller. “Probably besides hockey and maybe some rugby players, you go through a lot. Your body pays the price.”
On Tuesday, after a two-hour practice session with his teammates, Miller, 36, talked about the physical costs of a 16-year career, the upcoming World Cup races at nearby Beaver Creek, and his ongoing child custody battle.
After several days of training and racing in the freshly snow-covered Rockies, Miller will travel to the urban canyons of New York for a court hearing Monday. The legal battle between Miller and his ex-girlfriend Sara McKenna, 28, over custody of their 9-month-old son also has been bruising.
Miller’s celebrity landed the case in the headlines and, in turn, rallied women’s rights advocates to McKenna’s side. Aware that the dispute has drawn attention from coast to coast, Miller contended that facts have been distorted and that the case “has been so blown out of proportion in the media.”
“It’s really a super normal thing,” said Miller. “We filed for 50-50 custody. We’re not trying to take Nathaniel or anything. It’s the natural process that happens when two people aren’t together or if you got a divorce or anything else. You would have to sort out whatever the custody situation is for the child.”
With help from an upscale matchmaker, Miller and McKenna met in San Diego last year, dated briefly, and conceived a child. Last December, seven months into her pregnancy, McKenna moved from California to New York and enrolled at Columbia University. That was when custody issues intensified. The prospect of a 3,000-mile separation from his soon-to-be-born son worried Miller, and courts in California and New York became involved.
The boy was born in February, and McKenna filed for custody in New York. Then, according to multiple reports, Manhattan Family Court referee Fiordaliza Rodriguez ruled that California should have jurisdiction. In her May decision, Rodriguez called McKenna’s cross-country move with custody proceedings in progress in California “irresponsible” and “reprehensible.”
In the summer, a California court awarded Miller custody of his son.
The succession of favorable rulings for Miller prompted women’s rights advocates to speak out about the right of pregnant women to make autonomous decisions about their lives, to move where they want and pursue educational opportunities, as McKenna did.
Further underscoring the contentious nature of the battle, Miller and McKenna don’t call the boy by the same name. McKenna gave him his father’s name and registered him as Samuel Bode Miller-McKenna. She calls him Sam. In memory of his younger brother who died in April, Miller added Nathaniel as a middle name and calls the boy Nate.
With the California ruling in his favor, the five-time Olympic medalist cherished his time with his tiny new travel companion as his preparations for the upcoming Sochi Olympics intensified. Among Miller’s recent tweets, there are pictures of the boy in a ski helmet and goggles, and smiling in a winter hat and jacket, with the caption “Fired up for sledding.” There is also a month-old image of the boy crawling, with the message: “Huge day for the Miller clan . . . #proudfather.”
Those images show the good times Miller shared with his son before a Nov. 25 New York court hearing gave McKenna physical custody until the proceedings continue Monday. McKenna’s lawyer, Naved Amed, declined comment Wednesday for this story.
“It’s my lawyers’ job to try to follow through with what my desires are, and that’s based solely, in this case, on what I think is best for my son,” said Miller. “And that’s spending equal time with both parents, equal time with his mom, equal time with me.
“However, the logistics of that have to work out and that is what we’ve been trying to do from the beginning. It’s tough when the other party in the matter wants to make things as absolutely difficult as possible, which has been the case here. And has no regard for truth or any of the other stuff, which is just unfortunate.”
As Miller and McKenna battle on, the skier from Easton, N.H., sounded a bit bemused that publicity surrounding the case has focused on his image, expressing concern about negative portrayals.
“Unfortunately, in my case, my brand is important,” said Miller, who married professional beach volleyball player Morgan Beck in October 2012. “It’s important to making money. It’s important for lots of things.
“[McKenna has] been directly attacking that. It’s so pointless in this case because it has no bearing on anything. It doesn’t make any difference. It’s just, when you are in a position where things aren’t going your way — my wife does it all the time if she’s losing a fight or something, she just switches the fight to something else that she thinks she can win at. Just totally changes the argument to something else. It’s not a bad tactic. It’s just kind of pointless.”
Still, Miller noted that the custody matter and court appearances are not a distraction. He has taken an athlete’s approach of controlling what he can and moving on to the next steps in the legal process. While in Colorado, Miller is focusing on racing and adjusting to new skis after a year away from competition because of left knee surgery.
In his first downhill race since his year off, Miller finished 16th, the top American, at the Lake Louise, Alberta, World Cup event last weekend. He placed 23d in the super-G at Lake Louise. The Beaver Creek World Cup races are scheduled to start Friday with the downhill and Miller in the mix.
“I’ve been skiing fast,” said Miller. “Nothing’s changed for me. I just go out there and try to win every race I’m in. It’s just, I’m a little behind in terms of getting through this equipment stuff.
“There’s so many variables and matching up all these different variables and then relying on good snow conditions primarily to test it. It shows up great one day, but you know those conditions are nothing like what you’re ever going to race on.
“It’s great to be fast on a day like today; everyone loves to be winning those training runs. But it doesn’t do you any good when you have to race on ice or a completely different surface. You get what you can out of it when you can, but it’s been a long process.”
On the slopes and in courtrooms, it appears the process will continue a while longer.