High, 3m; humidity, 100 percent

About a year after moving to Bainbridge in the late ‘80s, Chris Miller showed up at the Ray Williamson Pool and asked the cashier what kinds of diving boards it had.

“You know how to dive?” he was asked.

Miller replied that he’d been a competitive diver and coach for a number of years.

The cashier asked him to wait and disappeared.

“Five minutes later, a tall guy with arms down to his knees comes out, crosses his arms, and says, ‘I understand you know how to dive,’” Miller recalls, chuckling at the memory.

The “tall guy,” John DeMeyer, then as now the aquatics director for BI Parks, tried to coax Miller into becoming an instructor at the pool, starting up a learn-to-dive program.

“At first I tried not to get involved, but he was persistent,” Miller laughs.

DeMeyer’s persistence led to a more-than-decade-long relationship between Miller and island divers, which culminated on Jan. 12, the date of the dedication of the Don Nakata Pool. The local diving community dedicated the two new boards to a totally unsuspecting Miller, uncovering small plaques in recognition of the countless hours he’s devoted to the program.

“He was like a deer caught in the headlights,” says Leslie Whalen, who spearheaded several months of fund-raising efforts. “He had no idea that this would happen.”

“I was caught totally off-guard,” Miller agrees.

He was also caught off guard about three decades ago, when he was a high school sophomore in the New York suburb of Blauvelt. The community had recently completed a new swimming pool, and Miller was jumping off the diving board during a free swim session.

That caught the eye of the high school swim coach, who had just started a swim team and was looking for another diver.

At the time, Miller was on the wrestling team, but the coach allowed him to compete in both sports.

“I was bitten by the diving bug,” Miller says. “I’ve been diving continuously ever since then.”

There was just one problem: the coach was strictly a swim coach who could offer little in the way of useful instruction.

“He said, ‘the more you do it the better you’ll get. And I’ll give you plenty of chances,’” Miller explains.

Using feedback from the other diver, books, videos, “anything else I could get my hands on,” the self-taught Miller improved enough to just miss qualifying for the New York state meet by the time he graduated

He went on to compete for four years at the State University of New York at Potsdam, where he qualified for Division III Nationals three of his four years. As a senior, he placed third in the statewide SUNY championships.

Jumping in

Even before he’d graduated from high school, he’d begun teaching at the local pool in its learn-to-dive program. In succeeding years, he coached at a number of country clubs in the vicinity.

After graduating with a degree in music education, he worked as a recreation and music therapist with the New York Mental Health Department in a lock-up facility.

“After that, teaching public school was a breeze,” he laughs.

He worked as an educator – part of his job was serving as band director – for six years. He also continued to coach diving and swimming, including a year at Division I Iona College.

Then came 1988, a watershed year.

“I wanted to quit teaching, quit coaching and start a new life,” he explains.

While in Seattle hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, he decided to visit the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. The easiest access was via the Bainbridge ferry.

When he got off the boat, Miller was instantly smitten.

“It was just like my home town,” he says. “Chickens in the back yards, no doors were locked, everyone had a four-digit phone number with one prefix. It made a profound impression on me.

“Deschamps (Realty) took me on even though I had no real estate experience. I was a hippie, fresh off the trail.”

He lived on the island for about a year, he says, without knowing it had a pool. “Then I picked up a copy of the Review and read about a BISC swim meet.” he continues. “Something clicked. I thought maybe I could go play in the water for a while.”

That “click” was apparently the sound of Miller’s coaching button being turned on again by his impromptu interview with DeMeyer.

“I didn’t know I’d be creating a monster,” Miller laughs. Word of the island’s new learn-to-dive program quickly increased the demand for even more instruction.

Within a couple of years, Miller had created enough graduates to take over the basic levels of the program, while he began working with more advanced divers. That led to the formation of the Bainbridge Island Diving Club.

The “first generation” of the club, he says, had 21 divers and often simultaneously used the high board, low board and a starting block.

Then membership dropped to about six, with one brief period of just three members.

Now it’s nearly back up to initial levels.

“They’re starting to push me to doing six workouts a week again, and sometimes they’ll say, ‘Chris, we want extra dry-land workouts too,” he says.

Eight months of the year, Miller makes at least one trip – to Victoria, Vancouver, Portland, even Utah and Wisconsin – as well as a handful of local developmental meets and working with BHS divers. “It’s a lot of volunteer time,” he concedes.

But as last month’s surprise dedication ceremony revealed, Miller’s commitment hasn’t gone unnoticed – or unappreciated.

“It was Aileen Griffey’s idea to raise money toward new boards in honor of Chris,” says Whalen, who, like Griffey, has children in BIDC. “The response was very gratifying. Chris is a really enthusiastic guy and he really knows his stuff. Besides that, he truly cares about his divers.

“He’s put in so much time and I’m glad to see he’s getting his due.”

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