Millie Knight leans on resilience at Winter Paralympics after surviving near career-ending setbacks

·4 min read
Millie Knight poses with her medals after arriving back from the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games (Getty Images)
Millie Knight poses with her medals after arriving back from the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games (Getty Images)

Millie Knight battled back from fearing she’d never ski again to securing her place at a third Winter Paralympic Games.

Knight, 23, became the youngest athlete to represent ParalympicsGB at a Winter Games in Sochi aged 15 before her hat-trick of alpine skiing medals – two silver, one bronze – in PyeongChang saw her emerge as one of the faces of the British team.

Those thrilling Korean heroics looked to lay the foundations for a medal-bulging Paralympic career but a series of concussions since – including one serious incident in Leogang, Austria, last February – have derailed her preparations for Beijing.

The Kent speedster admits she may never be able to banish from those demons and says flying the British flag at a third Games marks the most emotional one yet.

“It’s amazing considering the struggles, injuries and challenges that we’ve had. I’m pretty proud,” said Knight, one of over 1,000 athletes able to train full-time, access to the world’s best coaches and benefit from pioneering technology, science and medical support thanks to vital National Lottery funding.

“It’s taken a lot of determination – I still can’t really believe that I’m sat here going to my third Games considering the place where my head was in half a year ago.

“I genuinely thought: how can I even put skis back on, how can I do it when I know I’ve got so much fear these days?

“There were lots of times during the recovery when I questioned whether I was going to recover properly.

“Would I get back to 100 per cent Millie the athlete, and even Millie the person? Am I going to get back to the level that I was at? Am I going to be way behind?

“I still don’t think I’m the same skier as I was in 2017 and 2018. After the crashes, I think a switch changed in my head that I don’t believe will ever be able to be switched back, because I now have the fear that I previously didn’t have.

“It just creeps in like a bad smell – it’s like a rain cloud over you. Any little bit of confidence that I get it’s like: yeah but you might fall, you might hit your head again, you might get another concussion.

“It’s just all these doubts and questions that keep coming into my head that never previously came into my head - I thought I’d lost my bottle.

“When I got my selection letter through, it was quite emotional. ParalympicsGB are becoming like a family now – to represent them for the third time is incredible.”

Knight has never been an athlete short of resilience and despite those near career-ending setbacks, arrives in Beijing with momentum.

Millie Knight on her way to the bronze medal in the Women’s Slalom at PyeongChang 2018 (Getty Images)
Millie Knight on her way to the bronze medal in the Women’s Slalom at PyeongChang 2018 (Getty Images)

After returning from her injury in November, Knight used the Christmas break to accelerate her recovery and soared to a brilliant super combined gold with guide Brett Wild at last month’s World Championships in Lillehammer.

A bronze in the Super-G – won on her 23rd birthday – helped further build confidence ahead of ParalympicsGB’s alpine skiers flying out to their recent Austrian holding camp.

Knight and Wild, 29, will compete in five events next month but it’s the downhill and Super-G – where they won two silvers in PyeongChang – that represent their strongest podium hopes.

The alpine ace knows she’s evolved as a skier and admits enjoying the moment, not medals, is now her number one priority.

“I’m a different skier now – I’m a more mature skier, who takes less risks, but I work super hard in the gym, so I know I’m strong,” added Knight, whose medals in PyeongChang were three of 1,000-plus achieved by British athletes since the advent of National Lottery funding to elite sport in 1997.

“The experience is what I’m going to these Games for – it’s for the performance to cross the line, standing on my feet with a smile on my face.

“I know you don’t hear many athletes say that - obviously I’m a competitive athlete and a gold would be wonderful, but that’s very much not our focus.

“If we come away from these Games without a medal, that’s not going to be disappointing for us – it’s about performing well and being proud of what we’ve done.”

No one does more to support our Olympic and Paralympic athletes than National Lottery players, who raise more than £30 million each week for good causes including grassroots and elite sport. Discover the positive impact playing the National Lottery has at www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk and get involved by using the hashtag: #TNLAthletes