Millie Knight is a strong favourite for a medal on the slopes of Pyeongchang in the Winter Paralympics, which opens on Friday. But the visually-impaired skier is just delighted to be competing again, she tells The Mixed Zone’s Will Moulton
Millie Knight knows no boundaries. Despite having less than ten per cent vision in both eyes, she is forging a successful career by skiing down the side of steep mountains at rapid speed. It is something many with perfect vision would not dare do, yet nothing gives the teenager the same levels of freedom and enjoyment than doing just that with her guide Brett Wild.
“When I’m walking round in day-to-day life I am restricted – I can’t drive a car, I can’t always rely on other people to help me about,” Knight explains. “But when I’m skiing, even though I have Brett in front of me, I’m in control of the speed, where we’re going and for me there is no other feeling like that in my life.”
Not only does 19-year-old Knight relish competing in the sport, she is also very good at it. A multiple World Cup medallist, and the 2017 downhill world champion, she carries ParalympicsGB’s greatest chance of winning a medal at the Winter Paralympic Games in Pyeongchang.
The Canterbury-born athlete first skied aged six – shortly before losing sight in her left eye having already lost it in the right three years previously after contracting an infection at the age of one – and immediately caught the bug. However, the sport remained a recreation in her early years until an incident when on holiday with her family convinced her to take it more seriously.
Knight recalls the moment: “I got separated from my mum and couldn’t find her. She told me afterwards that in the queue she asked if she could go in front of someone, explaining she couldn’t find her daughter because she was blind and couldn’t catch up with her. The person she asked said, ‘No, you can’t go in front of me because a blind person shouldn’t be skiing – it’s not right, it’s not safe’. I was so angry because it was so ridiculous. I guess it was that which made me think, ‘I’m definitely going to ski now’.”
Spurred on to prove the doubter wrong, by 2012 Knight was part of the British Disabled Development Ski team and already an international medallist: she won bronze in the slalom at an International Paralympic Alpine Skiing meet with her mum as guide. That was the first time she experienced a sense of sporting achievement previously alien to her.
“I had found something that I was good at, something I really enjoyed,” the B2 class athlete recalls. “Playing sport at school often revolved around throwing and catching a ball, which you can probably understand I wasn’t very good at! Suddenly I’d found something I could pursue.”
Unexpectedly she qualified for the 2014 Winter Paralympics with new guide Rachel Ferrier. In fact, she received the selection call on her 15th birthday before being chosen as Team GB’s flag bearer. She finished fifth in both the slalom and giant slalom in Sochi.
By the end of 2016 she had joined up with Royal Navy submariner Wild, the two having been introduced by Knight’s coach Euan Bennett. The two clicked immediately, winning a bronze medal in their maiden race at the World Cup Finals in Aspen just a week after they first met; they went home with seven medals from the event. The pair have gone from strength to strength since, picking up four World Cup golds in 2017 before becoming the first British para-skiing world champions later that season. Knight puts their success down to the incredibly strong bond they have developed.
Knight, who will start her first year at Loughborough University in the autumn, said: “Trust is very important – if I don’t have that I’m going to start doubting my ability and whether we’re actually going to get down safely and quickly. Doubt is something you really don’t need when you’re travelling at 115kph!
“But our relationship is really built off-snow. Last summer we spent a lots of time together because I was recovering from a crash I had in March – I was often up in Scotland four days a week and he came down to mine as well for a few weeks. We just did things that friends do, like going to concerts, hanging out together and just having fun.”
That crash came at the Paralympics test event in South Korea as Knight crossed the finish line at the end of a run, leaving her with concussion. Despite their fantastic form last year, Knight admits the accident affected her. While many believe she will land a medal at Pyeongchang, she is just looking forward to getting back to competing.
“If I’m honest it’s been really, really tough,” she says. “It took about six months to recover from it and it has left a lot of worry and stress because I started to fear things that I’ve never feared before. It was difficult trying to overcome that, but there are a lot of people who have helped us. We’re slowly getting there.
“We don’t have medal targets because that is unnecessary pressure that we can’t focus on. All we can do is focus on our performance and the outcomes will look after themselves. That’s what we’re really aiming to do, having no regrets.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Will Moulton is a ‘Gold Standard’ NCTJ-qualified sports journalist and a First Class graduate from Durham University who aspires to one day commentate on international cricket and an Olympic Games. He is hugely passionate about a number of sports – including cricket, hockey, football and rugby – and also has two national cheerleading titles to his name. Will’s latest articles