Along with a sizable contingent of other Marine Corps wrestlers, Daniel Miller (97 kg) has been in Croatia this week getting some training in ahead of Saturday’s Grand Prix Zagreb Open. One of Europe’s more challenging international events annually, this year’s edition offers several interesting bulletpoints for Miller and the rest of the US squad.
For starters, it was at this very tournament in 2016 when Miller earned his first international medal, a factoid carrying significance particularly due to how new he was to Greco at the time. Since then, the Marine Corps Captain has racked up three more overseas bronzes as he continues to progress as one of the country’s most consistent international performers.
There is also the added twist regarding the updated weight classes and weigh-in procedures, of which many in the sport still have yet to experience for themselves. And as mentioned at the top, the Marines make up the lion’s share of the US roster to the point where it is almost a team event for them. Only one American in Croatia this week is not a Marine, a distinction belonging to 2016 Junior World Team member and Olympic Training Center athlete Michael Rodgers (97 kg, NYAC).
Given the variables in play surrounding Miller’s participation in the Zagreb Open this weekend — and the fact he is over there with a healthy number of his teammates — we wanted to touch base with him just as he was finishing preparing for Saturday.
Daniel Miller — 97 kg, Marines
5PM: First of all, how are you and the rest of the US guys doing with the camp, especially considering the scope of athletes who might be in the room and are also competing at this event?
Daniel Miller: The camp has been really good so far. It’s not as large as you might expect from the list of guys who they have competing at the tournament. It’s mostly right now the US, the Croatia team, and some guys sprinkled in from other countries. There are some from Argentina, maybe onesies and twosies here and there. But at the end of the day, it’s really important to get in the room — there are a couple of Croatia coaches here, a couple of other coaches — and with other training partners. We show each other stuff. They might show us something, we might show them something, and you learn on an individual basis. I think that is the most important part of these camps.
So far, I think it has been a great learning opportunity, especially for some of our guys who have a little bit less experience overseas. And in addition to that, the training has been good, hard, intense, and we’ve also had some really good recovery periods, as well. So I think it is a good balance of hard, intense training and getting you ready to go out and compete, but also making sure that we take care of our bodies with the understanding that the competition is this week.
5PM: One of the elements that makes this tournament interesting is that the majority of the active Marine competitors are on this trip. What is it like having a good bunch of your teammates with you at an overseas event when it’s usually a mixture of other guys from the US?
Miller: Right now where we’re at in our training schedule, it really works out perfectly to bring a lot of our higher-visibility guys out here, or guys who have a little more experience. But essentially, we’re training straight through events right now. I know that I’ve said this before, but at the end of the day, your matches only really count a couple of times a year — at the US Open, World Team Trials, Armed Forces (Championships), CISMs (Military Worlds), Worlds, and if it’s an Olympic year, the Olympics. Really, everything else is practice for that. We try to get a large number of our guys on an overseas tour together each season. This is our first one where we’ve sent a large number of guys, and it’s always great to get our guys out here.
Obviously, I love traveling with other US guys from other clubs, as well, but with having our guys out here, you have that team camaraderie and a certain level of trust and knowledge of one another. You know what each other’s schedules are, you know what each other’s strengths and weaknesses are, so maybe you can recommend to a partner, Hey, you might want to work with this guys, he’s got a good lift. Work with him to tweak your skills. Or, Work with this guy, he has attributes that may work well for you, so it actually winds up being more beneficial overall. In addition to that, you’re here with guys you work with every day, so you’re going to have, I don’t want to say the same work environment, but the same charisma. It makes for a room that you’re more familiar with, and also more flexible with our training and such. If we have free time or there is not a scheduled workout but we want to get in for a workout, we know we have guys to get in there and work out with. That is extremely beneficial for us because it allows for more flexibility in what we do during what is essentially downtime at the camp. Because, you might have a day off or it might be your own day and if I’m over here with a dude who is 59 kilograms, it’ll be pretty difficult for us to work out together. It really limits what we can do, whereas when you bring a large number of guys over here, you fill up the weight classes and you can be each other’s practice partners.
For some of us, this will be the first time making weight same-day. I think it’s going to be really crucial for that, having partners there who you trust. Guys who we know who will do anything for you, because some of these guys, when you’re down on weight, I know who is going to sit in the sauna with me no matter what. I know the guys who will get on the mat and work out with me if I really need it. And those are the guys you can’t replace. So in that aspect, it’s really positive, and you can always find guys who will do that on a trip. It’s just easier and adds peace of mind to know who that is already and not have to worry about it in the back of your head.
5PM: How have you been adjusting your own training plan and diet knowing the weigh-in procedures?
Miller: The weigh-in for me was definitely concerning initially. The weight class dropped a kilo and then we also went to same-day weigh-ins, so it creates a new dynamic. It was something Coach (Jason) Loukides and I joked about when they first talked about changing it, it was like, Well, you know, maybe by the end of the year I’ll be at heavyweight. And through what I’d just call more-regimented dieting and being more committed to where I want to be and what I want to do, and just reassessing what my goals are — it has really put me in a comfortable position to where I’m not even concerned with where I am now, especially this far out. We’re much closer (in weight) than I anticipated being a few months ago when I was looking ahead saying, Oh my gosh, this is going to be hard, how am I going to do it? Am I going to be able to do it?
Now we’re here and it’s the first time, and it isn’t something that is a huge concern for me. Obviously, that last little bit everyone always worries about. The goal is to get to where within two workouts, you can make the weight. We’ve reached that goal, at least I have in my weight control right now. And again, it’s like I said, reassessing where we’re at and being more committed to my diet and workout regiment. Coach Loukides has been phenomenal, he has been putting us through stuff when we need it and he tailors it to each individual. He knows what I need. He knows when I need to practice more intense, he knows when I need to rest depending on what my abilities are and how my body reacts to certain trainings. It’s been nothing but positive since they’ve (UWW) officially made the change and we’re ready to go. I feel really good about the weight, I feel good about it moving forward, and especially for this weekend. Bottom line: I walked out of practice this morning at 99 and a half kilos, and have experienced zero losses in my strength and power abilities during our lifts.
5PM: You’ve been undercover one of the most active guys in the country since you’ve come over to Greco. Just look at recent examples: September was CISMs, the late fall was Russia and Finland, and now you’re in Croatia. February will have Armed Forces, as well. Do you like being this active? Some athletes like having prolonged training blocks before they compete, too. What’s your happy medium?
Miller: First things first, I have to get a shout out to the Marine Corps and the All-Marine wrestling program for giving me all of the opportunities that I’ve had over the past little-over two years. I wouldn’t trade anything for the experiences that I’ve had and I’m extremely fortunate for it. In addition to that, another shout out to USA Wrestling for working with us and allowing us to take advantage of these opportunities.
I mentioned it earlier, but we train straight through these events. You talk about having long training blocks and competing, having long training blocks and then competing, but in our mind, a lot of these competitions are part of our training blocks. To be at the level we want to be at you have to take advantage of the best training opportunities you can. So if that means we have to go overseas for a month at a time, come home for a week, and then leave for another month, that’s what we’re going to do. The travel schedule, you know, it’s been pretty heavy. We’ve also done a lot of recruiting trips during our times when we don’t have competitions. But like you said, September, we were in Lithuania for the World Military Games. October, we went on a recruiting trip in California and then straight to the volunteer trip in Mexico, which was another phenomenal experience for me and Lieutenant (Colton) Rasche got to go with me, as well. And then in November, we went to Russia and did a two-week camp out there and competed. Then we went straight from Russia to Finland in December. First we competed and then we did another week camp out there. We then had a little break for Christmas, but for the most part, the guys who are in there wanting to win matches are in the room and still training right through that while maybe going home for a few days to enjoy time with family and friends. But then you’re really putting your nose to the grindstone because it’s during these times where you’re training and a lot of other guys aren’t. That is when you are going to make up the most ground on guys who have more time in the sport.
This month we’re in Croatia extending into February and then I’ll be at Armed Forces towards the end of the month. After that, I think I am going to tag along with Sergeant (John) Stefanowicz and Pat Martinez and head out to Bulgaria for a couple of weeks in March, and then we’ll see how everything goes from there. Obviously, the US Open is in April and we’ve got some tentative trips for the summer, as well. Honestly, I like being on the move. I think getting out there and being with other partners is the most valuable part of training, and working with other coaches. In interviews before, I’ve said, One guy may show you one part of a move and that part is natural for him. Another guy shows you another part of the move, and other parts are natural for him. At the end of the day, when enough guys have shown you the move, maybe it clicks for you like, Hey, I need to put these three or four things together that I’ve isolated from maybe a different training partner or coach that they’ve shown me. All of the sudden, something works for me, something new.
The only way to really do that is to travel and meet other people, other coaches, other athletes, and to really expose yourself to that. And to be willing to show them stuff, as well. There really aren’t a lot of secrets you are going to keep from each other. The whole point is to share the knowledge that you have in order to improve the sport of Greco as a whole, especially with the siege that we’ve been under in recent years and even more so in the United States. As much as we can travel, as much as we can get out there, and as much as we can take advantage of that, I am going to take advantage of every opportunity. Especially for me being a single guy, it’s hard being away from the platoon since I also double-down as a platoon commander. And as a senior guy on the team we have a lot of responsibilities, but I’m thankful for the staff we have back in the rear. Right now, Sergeant Stefanowicz is probably running around like a crazy man trying to take care of all this stuff because all of our officers are out of the shop right now. He’s our senior guy in the rear and he does a phenomenal job, as do my lieutenants, and I’m extremely thankful for what they do and the support they give me. As well as Coach Loukides. He’s not there to avoid getting his hands dirty. He’s got his hands in everything helping in any way he can whether it’s on the mat, in the office, your personal life — whatever it is, because at the end of the day, you have to be a well-rounded athlete to be successful.
There are certain pillars that you have to build and if you are short on one of those pillars, then you’re going to crumble eventually. Making sure we are providing support in all facets for all of our athletes, myself included, is important to sustain the training schedule that we have. But in providing that support, it allows us to train and travel more often. The resources that we have, I can’t say how thankful I am for them because a lot of people now see us as an up-and-coming program and that has a lot to do with Coach Loukides and how he takes advantage of what each individual’s skills are as far as training, planning, being able to support people, and using them in the best way possible along with our resources to create the largest benefit possible for the program and USA Greco, and for Greco on a global level. That’s really what we’re working towards.
But back to your original question, we’re going to keep training through these events. We’re going to keep pushing and we’re going to keep grinding. That’s part of the Marine Corps culture. It’s a warrior culture, we’re all about the fight. I’ve never had a guy tell me they don’t want to go on a trip, but if they do, it’s usually something having to do with one of the other pillars. There are guys we’ve held back from going on trips because of their relationships, or maybe it’s their career and they need to get something done. And we’re okay with that. We’re adaptable. But with where I’m at personally, professionally, and in my athletic career, traveling is the best thing for me, getting out there and working with these guys. Again, I’m extremely thankful for the all of the opportunities I’ve been given and hopefully I can continue to take advantage of them.
5PM: You’ve performed well at this tournament before and you are a different athlete comparative to two years ago. What is your mindset this time around considering that you’re improved in every way imaginable? You say this is part of training, but do you have specific goals related to your performance?
Daniel Miller: This trip was actually my first overseas trip two years ago and way back when, I think I still had the same goals that I do today and I don’t think they are ever going to change. What I think mostly changes is the mindset. The goal for me is to always go out there and compete as hard and as well as I can, and at the end of the day, bring home some hardware. You want to beat every opponent you come up against, you want to win medals and bring them home, but just as importantly, you want to go out there to compete as hard and as well as you can. The results will work themselves out, I’m a strong believer in that. That’s a large part of how my mentality has changed to basically being able to learn from your wins and from your losses. To be a World champ, you don’t have to be able to beat everyone on every day, you have to be able to beat anyone on one day.
That’s why we say a lot of times these tournaments are training for us and we train straight through them. We still have the same goals; the goal is to go out and win. But even more importantly, the same goal is to go out there, wrestle as hard as you can, wrestle as well as you can, and learn as much as you can whether you win or you lose. Get as much experience as you can. Those are what my goals are for this weekend and every competition I enter.
The mindset is the biggest thing that has changed since the last time I was out here. The mindset before was more, Okay, let’s go out here and get some match experience, all of these guys are probably better than me and I’m really not expected to win any match. Now, the mindset is, I have the capability to beat anyone out there. It’s just a matter of putting my match together, making sure that I control that which is in my control, capitalizing on whatever opportunities present themselves, creating opportunities for me to capitalize on, and being as successful as we can when capitalizing on those opportunities. So for me, the goals are always the same — compete as well as you can; compete hard, know you left it all out there; learn from the experience, and at the end of the day the results will work themselves out. The mindset, for me, has been the biggest change over the past two years.
Follow Daniel Miller on Instagram to keep up with his career and competitive schedule.