Paralympian Skier Millie Knight And Her Guide On Their Unique Friendship On And Off The Slopes

Visually-impaired athlete shares why trust is key to their success.

10/01/2018 08:01 GMT | Updated 10/01/2018 12:18 GMT

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Millie Knight is just 18 years old and she’s already achieved more than most.

The visually-impaired ski racer attended the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games aged just 15, coming fifth in two technical events. Since then, she’s gone from strength to strength, winning three events in the World Cup Globe and claiming gold in the downhill category at the World Championships in Tarvisio, Italy, last year. 

It’s not unheard of for Millie to reach speeds of around 115kph (over 70mph), which is phenomenal considering she can barely see two metres in front of her.

The ski champ from Canterbury lost the majority of vision in her right eye to an infection when she was just a year old. Five years later, the same happened in her left eye.

It was during this time, before her eyesight deteriorated badly, that Millie gave skiing a go while on holiday in France. She loved it and, thanks to encouragement from her mum and dedication on her part, her passion transformed into an incredible career.

This year, Millie and her guide Brett Wild will compete in the Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. There, the pair will communicate constantly via bluetooth headset - consisting of an earpiece and microphone - to ensure they get to the bottom of the slope in one piece.

The hope is that they’ll both come away with a gold medal. But if they don’t, they’ll still come away with their friendship.

“I love Brett’s communication and his openness. I think that’s probably one of his biggest strengths,” Millie told HuffPost UK. “Brett will say whatever he sees in front of him - all the important things that he needs to tell me - and then I will say back to him our distance, whether we’re too close, too far, whether we’re going too slowly, too quickly. All of that happens in a fraction of a second.”

Communication is a crucial element of the skiers’ relationship, as one wrong instruction could cause Millie great harm. But thankfully she’s in safe and very capable hands.

Brett was in the Royal Navy for five years prior to becoming her guide. He was approached by Millie’s former coach Euan Bennet to attend a trial period with the Paralympics ski team and began working with her straight after.

Explaining his role in the team, he said: “I have to not only look at what’s coming up, [but] I have to turn around to see where Millie is. So, I’m trying to look behind me and I’m trying to look in front of me at the same time as listening to her telling me to speed up or slow down. There’s a lot happening at once.”

Dennis Grombkowski via Getty Images
Millie Knight competing at the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games. 

Understandably, with so many factors to take into account, things haven’t always gone plain-sailing for the duo.

“Last season I had two crashes, one was more severe than the other which left me with quite a severe concussion that’s taken me six months to recover from,” Millie explained. “But hopefully by the Games we’ll be at our peak.”

It’s admirable that Millie jumped back into the sport with such enthusiasm and fearlessness. Especially as during one of the crashes, which happened at the World Championships in 2017, she was travelling at over 100kph.  

Trust is crucial in the skiers’ relationship and it’s something that’s had to be built up on and off the slopes.

In the run up to Pyeongchang, the pair will spend a lot of time together, hitting the gym twice a day, every other day, and training on snow for four days, before taking a day off and then repeating the process.

But they also spend time together outside of work - which they both acknowledge as playing a key part in their success as a team.

“We obviously spend quite a lot of time on the slopes, but the time we spend off the snow is really important,” Millie said. “I think that’s where our relationship has been built up the most.”

In summer 2017, Millie went to Scotland to visit Brett, and he visited her hometown too. “We just did fun things,” she said. “We went to some concerts and just sort of got [to know] each other’s routines and habits and had a really great time.”

This friendship and trust means Millie never questions or hesitates when Brett gives instructions - something which could put her at danger.

“Together, our biggest strength as a team is how well we get on off the snow,” Brett added. “We have that trust and Millie knows that when I tell her to do something, no matter how crazy it might seem, it’s the fastest and safest way to get down.”