Lookin’ Good

Zach ponders how a few words of encouragement or a vote of confidence can make a pivotal difference in someone’s life.

By on March 15, 2024 | Comments

First we just are, and then we get experience.

But in order to become experienced in something, we begin by walking into that very new thing.

We spend a lot of time walking in, wandering around, and checking out the scene. Most of the time we feel like an intruder, a person who doesn’t belong. We want everything and know nothing. We fear being seen. We long to slip into the shadows and learn from afar, desperately wanting to be let in, but not wanting to be found out.

This was me in ninth grade. That year I spent the winter sports season on the wrestling team. Ninth grade is kind of late to pick up a sport with a lot of “moves” and techniques, especially one in which a little mistake can leave you flat on your back with a front row view of the overhead gymnasium lights. But I did.

I’d like to say that I enjoyed it, but I didn’t. It was the first sport I remember doing that I dreaded going to practice for. I’m not so sure that the sport itself was the reason for my aversion. I think it was more the general vibe, which is a shame, because I think I had the potential to be a good wrestler. In that one and only season, I worked my way into the starting lineup, though I did drop down a weight class or two to make it happen. Even with that little bit of success, I would walk to practice dreading what was to come.

It’s not that practice was some sort of hellish place, but I was new and lacking in confidence. Combine this with a coach whose reinforcement dipped south of zero and by the end of the season and I was very ready to be done. I left and never came back.

Zach Miller hugging Coach Bradley 2023 UTMB - feature photo

Zach Miller and Coach Bradley share a moment at the finish line of the 2023 UTMB. Photo: Luke Webster

A Vote of Confidence

The following winter I joined the indoor track team. Coach Jeff Bradley took me under his wing, and in him I found what wrestling had failed to deliver. He had a way of seeing potential and encouraging it, and his enthusiasm for running and interest in me did wonders. He made me feel like I was good at something. He made me feel wanted. I took the confidence he instilled in me and ran with it, literally.

From then on, I ran for Coach Bradley every track season. If memory serves me right, I split 4:47 in a 4 x 1600-meter relay and ran 10:02 for 3,200 meters. I never qualified for anything beyond the league championships. I was good, not great, and yet Coach Bradley made me feel like a winner. He gave me that vote of confidence that young high schoolers sometimes need.

I ran with that vote right through high school, college, and all the way to last year’s finish line at UTMB, where Coach Bradley stood with outstretched arms to greet me. From those early years as a scrawny, scrappy high schooler to now, he has been that one thing for me I think so many people need: a vote of confidence.

Zach Miller racing Transgrancanaria 2024

Zach Miller racing in the 2024 Transgrancanaria. Photo: The North Face

The Importance of Encouragement

Just this past weekend, I traveled to Seattle, Washington, to watch my girlfriend, Jess, coach an Ultimate Frisbee tournament. As I watched the tournament, I noticed the growth amongst the players whom I have been watching for the past several years. I noticed a player coming into her own after being new and seemingly unconfident the year prior. I also noticed a player who seemed shy and timid, lacking the confidence to put herself in the game. To me, this girl needed a Coach Bradley, someone to pull her aside and say, “Hey! You’ve got potential. You can do this.” In fact, it reminded me of something Coach Bradley once shared at a track banquet, which was that the point of a coach is to have someone to say, “You’re lookin’ good today.”

In a world full of comparisons and critics, let’s remember the importance of encouragement. It’s so easy these days to get down on yourself, to feel like you don’t measure up. It’s so tempting to drop out before you drop in. And yet, one little vote of confidence can make a huge difference. One person to say, “Hey! You should give this a shot,” might be the difference between greatness and the thing that never was.

Zach Miller racing 2024 Transgrancanaria

Zach continuing to take that high school vote of confidence and running with it. Photo: The North Face

I’m not really sure how good of a wrestler I could have become. Perhaps my coaches missed the boat on that one. To be honest, I’m kind of glad they did. For sure, I’m glad Coach Bradley didn’t. I’m glad he was there to encourage me in running and I’m glad he still is.

Looking forward, I hope I can be that voice for someone else: a teammate, a friend, a random person I’ve only just met, or that girl at the Ultimate Frisbee tournament. I hope I can find someone to lend my vote of confidence to. Someone who has just walked in, who’s scoping things out, and who’s lurking in the shadows trying hard not to be seen. I hope I can be a Coach Bradley to someone like that, saying, “Hey! You’re lookin’ good today. Keep going!”

Call for Comments

  • Have you walked into a new situation or sport and felt completely out of place? How did you learn to belong?
  • Did you have an early mentor in your running who gave you a vote of confidence to keep going?
Zach Miller and Jiasheng Shen 2024 Transgrancanaria

Zach Miller shares a moment with The North Face teammate Jia-Sheng Shen at the 2024 Transgrancanaria. Photo: The North Face

Zach Miller
Zach Miller lives in a school bus he outfitted himself. He competes for The North Face and Team Colorado. Additional sponsors/supporters include Clean-N-Jerky, GU Energy Labs, and Nathan Sports. Follow him on Instagram.