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Westchase kids learn lessons of champion

A former Olympic ice dancer tells the tale of his path to earning a bronze medal at the 1976 Games.

Jim Millns, a former Olympic medalist, thinks he knows how to turn ordinary people into champions.

"Whatever you see yourself doing, start thinking like a champion," Millns told an audience of children at Westchase last week. To Millns, that means picturing yourself at the finish line, winning the prize or getting that coveted position.

Millns received the bronze medal in ice dancing at the 1976 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck, Austria with his partner, Colleen O'Connor. He turned professional and went on to do a Broadway ice skating production, made commercials and had key parts in a made-for-television movie called Champions.

The Chicago native lives in Tarpon Springs with his wife, Pat, and their five children. In 1996, he carried the torch through downtown Tampa as part of the relay leading up to the opening of the Olympics that summer in Atlanta.

Now a program manager for GTE, his side occupation is motivational speaking. He spreads his outlook and approach to competing in life to various groups, and for the U.S. Olympic Committee, but he came to the Westchase Swim & Tennis Club as a favor to friend and Westchase Homeowners Association president Bob Argus.

"My goal is to keep the Olympics in the minds of youth," he said.

In his talk, Millns, 50, recounts the spills and money troubles he experienced on his path to becoming a skating champion and then a successful family man.

"My very first lift I did with my skating partner, I tripped and put my skate blade through her finger," Millns said.

Since there were no corporate sponsorships available in the '70s during his early training, Millns worked several jobs to make ends meet.

"I went to the bank to buy a new car after I won the Olympics," he said. The loan officer at the bank laughed at his profession of ice skater and didn't want to issue the loan.

"He didn't know that after I had won, that very same bank hired me to do a series of commercials for quite a bit of money," he said. Millns got the loan.

"It's how people handle their mistakes and problems that makes them champions," he said. "You have to make positive decisions."

Millns' formula for adults and children includes eating right, getting plenty of sleep, building confidence in children and never yelling.

"It scrambles the mind and the person you're yelling at can't hear you anymore," he said.

Children in the Westchase audience related to that tidbit and more.

Caleigh Giacobbe, 13, from Wycliff Village, said she wants to be an Olympic swimmer.

"He inspires me," Giacobbe said.

"I came from a neighborhood very similar to here," Millns said about Westchase. "With the amenities you have here there's nothing holding you back."