Millie Knight made history when she was the youngest ever participant for ParalympianGB at the 2014 Winter Paralympics Games. Fresh from success at the World Cup (and at the World Championships in Canada after this interview took place), the future looks bright – but she isn’t forgetting about her school studies
You have just won Gold for the Giant Slalom at the World Cup. How did you manage your time?
Normally, I would train for roughly a week beforehand to get as much training in as possible. A typical training day is an early morning start, breakfast, getting my kit ready, journey up the mountain, training until around 1pm, lunch on the hill on the go, down the mountain, recovery (strength and conditioning), ski prepping, video analysis and the homework, dinner and bedtime at 9pm. At the moment I only compete in Slalom and Giant Slalom, so my races are normally over two to four days.
Does it sometimes feel surreal that you are involved in such sporting competitions?
The rise through the ranks to the Paralympics has been so quick, my feet have hardly touched the ground. I haven’t had time to dwell on the enormousness of these World Class events. I do sometimes wonder what I’m doing at these big races, competing against my sporting heroes like Kelly Gallagher and Charlotte Evans, and think one day someone will discover that I’m not really supposed to be here and it was all a big mistake!
Jumping back Millie, what do you remember about losing most of your vision at six?
I don’t remember anything about losing my sight except for the very boring hospital appointments. My mum seemed to keep it as stress-free as possible. We never dwelt on it as a negative and still don’t. I would not change anything about my sight even if there was a cure tomorrow. My sight has made me who I am today.
How did you feel taking to the ski slopes soon after this?
I only learned to ski soon after I lost my sight. My mum put me into ski school and didn’t tell them I couldn’t see very well because she was worried they would not allow me into the lessons. I just followed the person in front, like I do today. I loved it and wanted to do more and more. After a few good ski trips we met a lovely guy called Sean Rose at the London Ski Show – he had skied for ParalympicGB at Vancouver 2010. He told us how to get involved with the British Disabled Ski Team and that was back in 2011.
Did things develop quite quickly in terms of you competing at international level?
The timeline from my first trial week with the development squad in 2012 to my first small international race was only one year. It has all happened so fast.
How long does it take you to be comfortable with a sighted guide?
My guide is the most important part of racing. I have to trust them so much. I need them to be confident and very capable. Jen Kehoe [her current guide] fits this category very well. We are still learning and expanding our communication. There is such a short time between gates to process a turn, the course, snow conditions and anything else that might be appropriate, so communication is key.
Looking back at the Paralympic Games last year, how did it feel to be the flagbearer for Great Britain?
I am often asked how it felt to be a flagbearer at Sochi. It was, obviously, an incredible honour, but I was scared and very nervous. It was also past my bedtime and I had spent the day dealing with the media and having my photo taken… I was so tired. The flag was heavy and it’s not every day that you walk into a stadium with an audience of half a million and President Putin waving at you. It was an amazing experience, but it felt like it was happening to someone else and not me.
Did you really feel like the youngest member of the ParalympicsGB team (15 at the time) – and how did the rest of the team treat you?
I do think it was quite hard being the youngest team member. I hadn’t seen much of mum in the month or so run up to Sochi and I saw very little of her during the Games. There was a lot of pressure on everyone, but one or two of them really took me under their wing and made sure I was always OK.
Has King’s School, Canterbury [where Millie studies], been very supportive of your sporting career?
Juggling a sporting life with school and exams is always going to be difficult, but I am so lucky here at King’s, they recognise the difficulties and they work with you to keep you on track. Last year during Sochi I missed nearly a whole term, but when I returned all my teachers and support team were ready to put me back on track. I hope I didn’t disappoint them. I can’t thank them enough for all the effort they go to, to allow me to continue with my sport. I owe them to do well in my exams over the next three years.
Do you miss school when you are away?
I do. I have some great friends there, but there are also some phenomenal teachers who I miss too. I respect their advice and wisdom. If I could take those inspirational teachers with me when I’m racing I think I would have every essential life skill covered by these experts!
Looking ahead Millie, are you already setting your sights on success at the 2018 Winter Paralympics?
2018 was always my goal. That is going to be my Games. I will be so prepared by then, both mentally and physically. I will be older and wiser. I will have worked with Jen for a lot longer and I will be skiing five disciplines and just the two that I currently do as I will add the speed events to my repertoire next season. I am going to take a gap year as a full-time athlete training for a year before the 2018 Games. This will help in my quest for Gold at the next Winter Paralympics. I have so much to look forward to.
Words: Mark Kebble
Keep track of Millie at millieknight.co.uk