Fresh from the winter Paralympics in Sochi the youngest winter Paralympian in the history of British sport Millie Knight has given SportsAid an exclusive interview about the Games which she says were an incredible ‘dream come true’ for her.
“It was really, really amazing,” said the 15-year-old skier from Harbledown in Kent who finished a surprise fifth in the visually impaired (VI) slalom and giant slalom events alongside her new guide Rachael Ferrier, with whom she has been skiing for only a few months.
“I did not expect to come in the top five at all. My main aims were to finish and not come last and I did both of those!”
“I was completely over-the-moon.” She added.
Millie's selection for the ParalympicsGB team came just a day after she was named as SportsAid’s athlete of the month on January 22, having just won the first IPCAS gold medal of her career with Rachael in the VI slalom. But with the duo still to compete in a giant slalom event together, the news came as a huge surprise.
And there was more to come. The day before the Paralympics began Millie learned she would be given the honour of carrying the flag for Great Britain during the Games’ opening ceremony.
“Everything has been a complete shock to me. It’s been amazing. I was not even expecting to be picked for the team so that was amazing and then being chosen as the flagbearer, that was truly incredible. I’d been wanting to do that since I was tiny, it’s been my dream. And I’ve done it now, it’s amazing. It was over very quickly and all a bit of a whirlwind.”
She added, “The atmosphere in Sochi was amazing with all the elite athletes there. It was really great. I became quite good friends with some of the other athletes.”
The bond between Millie and Rachael clearly developed well out in Sochi too, meaning they could overcome the hurried preparations for the biggest event of their careers and more than justify their selection.
“Our relationship has just got better and better and our skiing has improved a lot too,” Millie explains. “It was a bit rushed because my previous guide couldn’t race in November so Rachael stepped in, but then over Christmas my guide ruptured her ACL so Rachel was called in again.
“We had a race in January where we won gold so it was looking bright, but then [in the giant slalom in Sochi] we were just three seconds away from bronze which was very exciting.”
Which is all the more impressive when you consider that this was not only their first Paralympic Games but the first giant slalom race they had competed in together.
“In training it had been our stronger discipline so we were quite excited going into that race,” Millie explains.
Asked what makes a good guide, she says, “The main thing is trust because if I don’t trust my guide I don’t have confidence, but with trust it’s like ‘come on let’s get this’. Communication is also key because if they don’t talk I become a bit hesitant.”
And her highlight of the Games?
“Seeing Kelly [Gallagher] win gold was incredible. I cried quite a lot.”
“Kelly and Jade [Etherington] and my other teammates were the perfect people to learn from,” she added. “They were great role models for me. By 2018 I’ll have all the experience but right now they’ve mentored me and have been absolutely amazing.”
Millie is one of many young athletes who is currently supported by SportsAid and she says this has “really helped me both mentally and financially.
“SportsAid’s support has been great and it’s given me a lot. Thank you very much.”
With the 2013/14 season now coming to an end Millie is already looking forward to next season when she hopes to be competing at the IPC world championships in Canada, where she expects to use more of the financial support she gets from SportsAid.
“My SportsAid Award will help me to fund that. Thank you very much, that will be so helpful.”
Further ahead Millie says her main goal is the next Paralympic Games in PyeongChang in 2018 where she hopes to follow in Kelly Gallagher and Jade Etherington’s footsteps by getting onto the podium.
But for now it’s back to school for the Kent teenager who has just a few days off this week to “get back to normality” before lessons begin again on Thursday, which she says she is really looking forward to.