At first glance, Britney Simpson and Nathan Miller seem like ordinary kids from next door who can be seen in any living room across the nation. Simpson, 14, just began her freshman year at Cheyenne Mountain High School in Colorado Springs, Col., and Miller, 22, works as a cook at a local eatery in the same town. It isn’t until they step on the ice, skates laced tight, that each kid’s gifts are exposed. As the 2010 U.S. Nationals Junior silver medalists in pairs figure skating, Simpson and Miller are anything but ordinary.
Their partnership, even in its infancy, was winning medal- they are the 2009 U.S. National pewter medalists- and has started to take off in the last calendar year. A fourth place finish at the Junior Grand Prix event in Lake Placid last fall led to another assignment in Germany. The duo earned their first international medal in Germany- a bronze, and suddenly found themselves heading to the Junior Grand Prix Final.
“After Germany when we realized that we had made the Final, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I can’t believe Nathan and I did this,'” Simpson recalled. “It was such a great feeling knowing that we did such a great job.”
The young upstarts finished in sixth place at the Final, and headed to the U.S. Championships as one of the favorites to win the junior title. In Spokane, Wash., at those championships, Simpson and Miller headed into the freeskate in a virtual tie with leaders Felicia Zhang and Taylor Toth. However, costly errors on jump landings relegated them to the silver medal position.
As silver medalists, Simpson and Miller were named to the Junior Worlds team, and headed to The Hague, Netherlands, with an opportunity to complete their 2009-10 campaign on a high. Their fifth place finish was the highest of the American contingent, and their season’s best score and international ranking put them into consideration for Grand Prix assignments later this fall.
“Last year was such a great year for us in terms of gaining competitive experience,” Simpson offered. “It was fun to travel around the world to compete- we competed in the United States, Germany, Japan, and The Netherlands. It was a very successful season, and because of that, I think that it helps us in our preparations for our upcoming season.”
Simpson and Miller teamed up in 2008 after the U.S. Championships. Miller had just ended his “on again off again partnership” with Claire Davis, with whom he won the 2005 U.S. Novice title, and was searching for a new partner who could compete with him on the junior level. Simpson was a budding singles skater who had competed on the juvenile level in that same season, but despite the lack of experience, was the match for which Miller was searching.
“I think that Britney and I have a really good brother and sister type of relationship, and we get along great,” Miller said of why they are a good match. “We bicker here and there, but who doesn’t? We have a nice respect for each other, and we both have a passion for pairs skating, so that helps us a lot.”
Since the Junior World Championships, Simpson and Miller have been working to become a more complete pair, focusing on the subtleties of skating, which they hope will place them in good stead for their debut as senior level competitors.
“By the time we got to Junior Worlds, we knew what we needed to do to prepare ourselves mentally to compete,” Simpson explained with maturity far beyond her years. “Going into this season, knowing that we will be competing against World and Olympics medalists, it’s huge. However, I know that I need to focus on what I need to do, and then once I have done that, I can look back and realize the gravity of the moment.”
“We are really focusing our efforts on our presentation this season,” Miller asserted. “Kathy Johnson comes out and does a lot of modern dance with us to help us with our programs. Some of what she has been doing has made the light bulb click on over our heads to where we can be more in tune with each other on the ice. We definitely have a better chemistry on the ice, but we also understand that there is a business side to skating, and we need to get out there are get our job done.”
In July, Simpson and Miller competed in the senior pairs division and won both portions of the Liberty Summer Competition in Aston, Penn., their first full competition of the season. Two weeks later, they finished in second place among American teams at the Indy Pairs Challenge in Indianapolis, Ind. In both competitions, the U.S. Junior silver medalists scored more than their personal best from last season, and appear to be poised to make a strong debut.
“We have been training to learn how to overlook the small mistakes that we make in training, so that when we compete, we know how to deal with them,” Simpson stated. “Of course we analyze them with our coaching team after we finish our run-through so that we can know what we need to do to make that element successful in the next run-through.”
Both skaters are excited to earn their first Grand Prix invitation this season- to the Cup of Russia- and are hoping that they are fortunate enough to sneak in for a second international before the U.S. Championships in January.
“I’ve been dreaming about being on TV and representing the USA since I was little,” Miller said passionately. “As soon as I learned we got an invitation (to compete in Russia), I was excited. We don’t have a lot of expectations about placement, we just want to be solid.”
“There is a possibility of us getting another international competition,” he continued. “There is a spot open at Skate America and the possibility of an assignment in Austria (Ice Challenge). Both competitions are very close to the Cup of Russia, but we are thrilled to be in this position as first year seniors, and would certainly do our best to be competitive at any opportunity offered to us.”
For their senior debut season, Simpson and Miller have elected to stick with their memorable Moonlight Sonata freeskate from last season, but have struggled somewhat with creating a new short program.
“We originally selected music from Requiem for a Dream, and we skated it at a competition here in Colorado,” Miller explained. “The judges didn’t really like the program, and thought that it was pretty dark for us. So, before we went to Liberty, we had to get a whole new short program together. We picked music from The Pink Panther, and it is a really fun program. Britney and I are able to let our personalities out in this program since it’s so playful and mature at the same time. The feedback we received at Liberty and Indianapolis was really good, and our component marks were quite better than last season for us. As long as we play around with it and have fun, I feel like it will be a great program for us.”
Program selection issue behind them, Simpson and Miller are continuing to work with coach and choreographer Dalilah Sappenfield and her son, Laureano Ibarra. In addition, the duo has worked with Zuzana (Swed) Parchem on choreography.
“Of course Dalilah is our head coach, just the same as last season,” confirmed Simpson. “She has a great formula for working with us that I believe really supports our skating. Laureano is our secondary coach, and he does all of the same things that Dalilah does with us, and we work with both each day. We also work with Damon Allen, who is our jump coach, and with Becky Bradley on our pairs spins.”
Simpson and Miller have modest goals this season- to make a strong debut and to start the building blocks of creating a successful senior pairs team.
“We know that this is the senior level, and there are people on this level who have so much more experience than we do,” Simpson said honestly. “I’m just going to go to Cup of Russia wanting to do my best, and not really caring about the outcome of our placement.”
Miller agreed. “I just want to make a strong debut this season. We’re very lucky to be where we are so early in our careers, and I just want to go out there and show everyone how hard we have worked since last season. I want them to see the big changes in our skating from last season until now.”
Simpson started skating almost by accident, and chose to give up another sport in lieu of her true passion.
“I was on my way to a swim lesson when I was about five,” she remembered. “We had to pass an ice rink on the way to the pool, and I saw all of these girls skating around wearing pretty dresses with sequins and spinning and jumping. I thought that it looked cool, so I asked to try it instead of swimming.”
Simpson’s family relocated to Colorado Springs from Golden, Colo., some eighty miles away in order to skate with Miller, and has settled in comfortably in her adopted hometown. After being home schooled through the Colorado Connections Academy last year, Simpson is enjoying being able to attend school like most other high school students.
In her precious few moments away from the rink and school, Simpson enjoys volunteer work, but also takes time to relax.
“I like to go to my mom’s school and help out,” said the three-time volunteer service award winner. “I also like to sit out by the pool when the weather is right.”
Simpson’s mother, Sallie, works with children who have special needs, and teaches them how to play sports, apply for jobs, and a host of other skills. Additionally, she sports quite the athletic resume having competed in swimming, and played soccer and basketball in college.
“Mom thought I would be a swimmer because I am really a good swimmer even now,” shared the freshman. “Even though I chose skating, she has supported me through everything, and doesn’t push me. Instead she lets me push myself, and if I wanted to quit skating today, she would support that decision.”
Simpson has a second mother, Dianne Blumenchien, who is an administrator at a school in Colorado, and is very supportive of Simpson’s skating as well.
She has aspirations of becoming a physician after her skating career comes to a close, and thinks that it could be interesting to remain involved in athletics in some form.
“I am very interested in medicine, and I am very interested in becoming a nutritionist as well,” Simpson shared. “It would be really exciting to combine my athletic background with my professional career one day. It could be really fun to work for the United States Olympic Committee or something.”
Like many budding skaters, Miller began skating at a birthday party- in his case, a sister’s- at the age of five.
“I started out playing hockey, and one of my teammate’s sisters was a figure skater, and I decided to give it a shot,” Miller recounted. “I thought that figure skating was a bit harder, and there were more girls in figure skating, so I picked it over hockey.”
Originally from Oklahoma City, Okla., Miller relocated to Colorado Springs to train with Sappenfield when he was fourteen.
“My family moved with me to Colorado Springs, but when I turned eighteen, they moved back to Oklahoma City,” he explained. “I got an apartment, got a job, and they have been helping me with expenses since they left.”
Miller started out as a singles skater, and then shifted into pairs and dance before settling on pairs as his specialty.
“When I moved to Colorado, I was skating all three disciplines,” Miller said with a twinge of exhaustion in his voice. “When I won the U.S. novice pairs title in 2005, I also finished 12th in novice dance. After we got home from the competition (Sappenfield) told me that I needed to choose one and commit to it, so I have been skating pairs exclusively since then.”
The youngest of Jim and Lavina Millers’ five children, Miller has four sisters- Cynthia, Denice, Vickie, and Stacy. Both of his parents work as nurses.
Miller lives in an apartment with Daniyel Cohen and Chris Knierim, both of whom are pairs skaters, but the battles among roommates don’t just stay on the competition ice.
“We’re actually in this big fantasy football league battle right now,” he said rather sheepishly. “We all play video games, football, and work out all the time. We definitely rag on each other about skating, but it’s done out of love. I’ve been really good friends with both of them for a long time, so it works out really well.”
Apart from skating, Miller’s passion lies somewhere between the kitchen and the concert arena.
“This year in order to maintain a more normal life, I have been trying to get to a lot more concerts,” Miller explained. “I work as a cook-server-bartender at a restaurant in The Springs, and I have a really big passion for cooking. I think after my skating career is over, I would love to open my own restaurant. I would love to be on the show Top Chef one day.”
Simpson and Miller are scheduled to make their international debut this season at the Cup of Russia in late November.