'Bro-Nodding' with Bode Miller: PEOPLE's Encounter with the Record-Breaker

02/19/2014 at 01:30 PM EST

'Bro-Nodding' with Bode Miller: PEOPLE's Encounter with the Record-Breaker
Bode Miller
Johnny Dodd is a reporter and writer for PEOPLE, currently in Sochi covering the 2014 Winter Olympics. You can follow him on Twitter @Johnny_Dodd.

Something about walking in the rain all day makes a guy's mind start to wander.

And today as I hoofed it around Sochi's Olympic Park, splashing through puddles and sliding in the mud, I started thinking about a run-in I had a couple days earlier. (At least I think it was a couple days. Time here has gone all screwy on me due to lack of sleep.)

I was hustling to the Media Center, late for a press conference with Super-G silver and bronze medalists Andrew Weibrecht and Bode Miller. While approaching a security checkpoint, I glanced over and saw a guy sitting off by himself on a little plastic chair near a curb. Several days worth of stubble sprouted on his cheeks, chin and neck. He looked vaguely familiar, I thought, quickly convincing myself he was an old writer pal I hadn't seen in years.

I made a beeline toward him, my eyes locked on his face. He no doubt sensed me staring at him, and a split second later, our eyes were focused on each other. And all at once I realized two things: 1) The man I was looking at appeared on the verge of tears, his eyes red, his expression beyond sad. 2) The man I was looking at was Bode Miller.

I didn't know too much about Bode's personal life, but I'd heard, like so many here, how pained he still was from the death of his hard-charging, free-spirited brother Chelone, who passed away from a seizure in May 2013. Hours earlier, Bode had landed in the record books as the world's oldest Olympic alpine skiing medalist. But clearly what he really wanted most of all on this afternoon was his kid brother back.

I stopped in my tracks, feeling just awful for him. Unsure of what else to do, I nodded a slow, deliberate bro nod, trying to convey that – in some limited way – I understood. And as I turned to make my way up to the press conference he was doubt bracing himself to speak at, he bro-nodded me back.

Tune into NBC tonight for more Olympic action, and check back with PEOPLE.com throughout the day for spoiler-free coverage and more of Johnny's dispatches from the Games.

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