World hears Carrie Miller Severna Park High School senior seeking deaf swimmers' records

December 23, 1991|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Evening Sun Staff

On that day last August when she set a world record, Carrie Miller had to send a fax message from Tuscaloosa, Ala., to Bulgaria to inform her parents.

As a matter of routine, she always tells her father her swimming times, and this one was truly special, but few swimmers would have had to resort to faxing it.

Of course, even fewer swimmers are deaf.

Upon reading the message and seeing Carrie's time, her dad, Jeff Miller, a professor who was teaching economics to faculties in Bulgaria at the time, turned to his wife Ginny and said, "She broke a world record!"

Carrie had mentioned only the time, not that it was a world record for deaf swimmers. Indeed, she didn't know what the record was, having always left such matters to her father.

Jeff Miller fired a fax back to Carrie in Tuscaloosa: "Do you know you have your first world record?"

Her time of 1:05.35 in the 100-meter butterfly, though good only for 19th place in the National Junior Olympics in Tuscaloosa, broke the world record for female deaf swimmers previously held by a West German. During the awards presentation, Miller was given a special commendation.

Next for the 17-year-old, Severna Park High School senior is a dual meet for deaf swimmers in which the United States will compete against Canada Jan. 3-5 in Calgary. She is closing in on more world marks.

Three years ago, at the World Games for the Deaf in New Zealand, Miller led the Americans with four gold medals, three silvers and a bronze. That brought acclaim as the Female Deaf Athlete of the Year from the U.S. Olympic Committee and the American Athletic Association of the Deaf.

All that before she set the world record. The Games, held every four years, will be staged next summer in Bulgaria. She has every intention of being there.

Miller lost her hearing at the age of 15 months after she developed spinal meningitis and the accompanying high fever damaged her auditory nerves.

As she copes, she is aided by a telecommunications device attached to a phone enabling her to type messages on a keyboard and receive replies on a screen. She has a captioner for TV. Anne Arundel County provides an interpreter at school.

After five years of swimming with the Cecil County YMCA and two with Navy Juniors, Miller joined the Retriever Aquatic Club, which trains under Sid Burkot at UMBC, 15 months ago. During her first week with the team, Burkot was on the pool deck telling a joke to an assistant that he didn't want the swimmers to hear.

"She was doing a backstroke kick drill and was maybe 25 feet away," Burkot said. "I wasn't talking loud enough for any of the kids to hear, but Carrie read my lips and wagged her finger at me like I had been a bad boy. It was a little embarrassing."

At first, Burkot made a conscious effort to speak slowly and more clearly when Carrie was present, but quickly discovered it wasn't necessary. Since she can't hear the horn at the start of a race, she turns her head so she can see the strobe light on the wall that flashes simultaneously.

"I was always the last one in the water when races were started by a gun," Miller said. "Light travels faster than sound, so I have an advantage on starts now because of the light. I also think I have quick reflexes."

Said Burkot, "Nobody on the team gets a faster start than Carrie. Before a meet, we point out to the referee he'll have to use hand signals to bring swimmers to the starting position when she's in an event. Officials are trained to do that in their certification course."

Miller's deafness works to her advantage in another respect, according to Burkot. When his swimmers are complaining about a particularly demanding workout, she isn't swayed by it because she can't hear them.

"When Carrie came to us she was pretty good, but inconsistent," Burkot said. "We're trying to convince her she can swim fast when she has to, not just when she feels good but when she doesn't feel all that good."

With a 3.94 grade-point average, Miller might have her pick of colleges. She already has visited Yale. Almost every day, of course, she visits UMBC for her workout.

The college's varsity, by a happy coincidence, is coached by the same man who directs the age group team there, Sid Burkot.

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