Grief has been a powerful motivator for Bode and Morgan Miller, both their own and the grief they hope to spare other parents.
In 2018, Bode Miller, a former Olympic skier, and Morgan Miller, a professional beach volleyball player, lost their daughter, Emmy, in a tragic drowning accident. Since then, they’ve devoted themselves to teaching their children to swim as early as possible — and encouraging others to do the same.
The couple has already begun the process with the twin sons they welcomed in November, they told TODAY's Natalie Morales in an interview aired Wednesday.
At just 7 months old, Asher and Aksel aren’t learning the breaststroke or even to doggy paddle. Instead, they’re learning how to survive in water thanks to Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) self-rescue instruction.
“It really teaches them awareness of what water is,” Morgan Miller, 33, explained to Morales. “By the end of an ISR session, they are able to fall in the water, turn over and float. And they understand how to save themselves in any situation.”
It’s a skill that could've made a lifetime of difference for their daughter, who drowned in a pool at a neighbor's home during a party her parents were attending.
“We've chosen to focus on the ISR stuff because that empowers the child,” Bode Miller, 42, said. “They're more or less a prepackaged safety mechanism going around. Anywhere they encounter water, they're going to have the right skill set traveling with them.”
Morgan Miller noted that some parents find the process ISR approach difficult at first.
“I have so many parents when, in the first couple days, they're like, ‘How do you listen to them cry?’” she said. “I would give anything to hear Emmy cry. Anything. And you recognize that the crying is temporary, and then they have this amazing skill.”
As the infants adapt to the uncomfortable sensation, the cries subside, and the lessons take hold. The Millers know this because this isn’t their first experience with ISR.
Asher and Aksel’s big brother, 20-month-old Easton, took ISR training early, and he’s back to learn even more this summer.
“(He’s) swimming across the pool, and he's laughing, and he's playing,” Morgan Miller said. “And he's having fun, and it's such a huge sense of relief for us to know that he now has those skills.”
But there’s a bittersweet element for the Millers as they watch Easton’s success.
“At the same time, it's a little bit of a gut punch because he's the exact same age Emmy was,” the mother of five continued. “To us, there's no reason why she should not have had these skills, and I am not willing to make that same mistake moving forward.”
The couple also have an older son, 5-year-old Nash, and Bode Miller has a daughter, Dacey, 12, and son, Nate, 7, from previous relationships.
Prior to Emmy’s death, Nash began swimming lessons.
“Emmy was 18 months old (then),” Morgan Miller recalled. “We told the instructor, ‘Please teach her. Please teach her. Please teach her.’ And he said, ‘We can't. She's 18 months old. She can't learn anything right now.”
A month later, Emmy died. At the time, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended teaching children to swim starting at age 4, but it's since changed its guidance to age 1.
“The skills that you learn to independently self-rescue are the most important things you can teach your child," Morgan Miller said.