TRAVERSE CITY — Capt. Rorke Miller grew up in a little different world from the one where many of his summertime sailing students hale.
Miller, 37, has been sailing as long as he can remember whether it was in Lake Michigan near Chicago where he was born, raised and schooled. Or on his brief run at professional sailboat racing or his time captaining charter cruises in the Caribbean.
He’s taught more than 1,000 people to sail. And he’s known for portraying himself as Capn’ Rorke — a larger-than-life modern sailor who spouts stories from sailing history while manning the helm of traditionally-rigged sailboats.
But for the past three years, Miller has been the captain for the Maritime Heritage Alliance’s SAIL Champion program — a program that gives at-risk teens a chance to crew a 53-foot-long gaff-rigged cutter, Champion.
It’s an experience that changed Miller’s perspective on life and recently earned him a nomination for the Old Pulteney Maritime Heroes Award. It’s a national award decided by the votes of people who go to www.maritimeheroesvoting.com and cast a vote by Dec. 1.
“You see someone in his life, he was doing great things, but they weren’t making a profound impact on the community,” said Joe Sanok, clinical director for the program and the person who nominated Miller for the award. “I don’t know what he is going to do over the next 10 to 20 years but I know it is going to impact our community in a profound way.”
Sanok watched Miller transform from an animated captain to a man who has dedicated himself to helping the teens, many of whom were born on the other side of the wrong side of the railroad tracks.
“It’s the job that I was born to do,” Miller said. “Together we can all set these kids on the right path. I’m not a counselor, I’m just a regular guy.”