SUZANNE KNIGHT: “I WANT TO ENABLE MILLIE TO BE THE BEST THAT SHE CAN BE”

Millie and Suzanne Knight have always been a team since the very beginning. Para-skiing star Millie took the sporting world by storm as she powered to two silvers and a bronze at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympics, as mother Suzanne proudly watched on from the bottom of the South Korean slopes. The hat-trick of medals was just reward after years of sacrifice from the Canterbury-based duo.
03 June, 2020

Millie and Suzanne Knight have always been a team since the very beginning. Para-skiing star Millie took the sporting world by storm as she powered to two silvers and a bronze at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympics, with mother Suzanne proudly watching on from the bottom of the South Korean slopes.

The hat-trick of medals were just reward after years of sacrifice from the Canterbury-based duo, with Millie travelling to the Sochi Games in 2014 - aged just 15 - before finally finding the perfect skiing guide in Brett Wild the following year.

That partnership with Glasgow’s Wild was a long time coming, as Millie experimented with nine different guides throughout the 2014-15 season before eventually hitting the jackpot with the Royal Navy submariner.

And it all started alongside mother Suzanne, who reflected on her ‘challenging’ experience of partnering her daughter and how she has helped support her fledgling sporting career.

“We took Millie skiing after she lost her sight when she was six, and from the very beginning she said ‘I’m going to be a Paralympian’,” Suzanne, 56, recalled.

“I went along as Millie’s guide in her first development squad week as that’s what we’d always done, and getting a guide was expensive. I had raced a little when I was younger, but only at a very low level, and I was used to just going for a jolly and having a hot chocolate at the end of it!

“It was challenging - I wasn’t fit enough and sometimes it was scary, as it was something that wasn’t very natural to me. But everybody understood why we were in that situation - I did find it hard work, but it was just about getting Millie on the snow and getting her used to being coached.

“We’ve just got on with skiing despite the fact Millie's sight went gradually - we’ve never been fearful of it. I don’t stand at the bottom of the slopes and chew my nails - I don’t look at the scoreboard, I don’t look at the times, and if I did fret about her then I don’t think we’d have got through all this.”

The dynamic mother-daughter duo scooped third place in their maiden competition together in Landgraaf, Holland, in 2012, as Millie embarked on a journey that would culminate six years later in Paralympic nirvana.

Next came an international victory in Rinn, Austria, as she was partnered by 17-year-old Rachel Ferrier, with the triumph in the Alps rapidly propelling her into contention for Winter Paralympics selection in 2014.

One phone call later and she had secured her seat on the plane to Russia, a life-changing moment that Suzanne believes laid the foundations for her thrilling PyeongChang success.

“We had no idea Millie was going to Sochi, so that was a real shock for us,” she added. “Millie got the selection call at school on her birthday - the whole experience was a whirlwind and so much fun, as Millie was under no pressure.

“To come back with that experience as a 15-year-old was amazing, but finding a guide was our number one concern after those Games. We were driving all over Europe. We would drive through the night after Millie had been on the slopes just to get her back to school the following day.

“She always had that work ethic, and because she had that mentality, it’s made it easier to follow along with her and work with her.”
Millie soon discovered Wild in 2015 upon her return from Sochi, as the two immediately struck a fruitful partnership.

And after three years of preparation - including a bad crash in a South Korea qualifying event in 2017 - Millie shot to fame at the following Games, claiming medals in the Downhill, Super-G - silvers - and Slalom - bronze - events to make all of Suzanne’s sacrifices worthwhile.

But it was far from plain sailing in the run-up to the Games, with Suzanne recalling the degree of mental fortitude required to bounce back from that 2017 accident.

“It took two years to get over that fall - Millie didn’t really do much racing before the Games and she was so unsteady on her feet,” Suzanne said. “Brett, who’s a brilliant skier and gives Millie so much confidence, worked very hard with her in the run-up to Sochi and was very patient.

“We went to the Games with no expectation, but Millie pulled it out of the bag and got two silvers and a bronze which to us, felt like gold or platinum. It is a ‘we’ with me and Millie - we've always worked really well together, and it’s completely worth it.”

Millie is currently studying Psychology at the University of Kent after completing her A-Levels at the King’s School, Canterbury, diligently juggling her education and training ahead of a further tilt at Paralympic glory in Beijing in 2022.

But behind every sporting story is a tale of teamwork and dedication, with Suzanne’s influence still being stamped on everything the 21-year-old achieves on the slopes. And with a bright future looming, Suzanne says she couldn’t be prouder to have played such a vital role in Millie’s burgeoning journey.

“I don’t even think I can describe how much pride Millie’s career fills me with - it’s enormous,” she added. “I know I am part of that and that there is a little bit of me in that. My job is simply to enable her success - I realised at the beginning that I couldn’t guide her, but that what I could do was enable her to be the best that she wanted to be.

“The journey with Millie has been amazing - even though it’s normally just one hill, a hotel and a motorway, it’s been a great experience that we wouldn’t have any other way. Beijing 2022 is now the next aim, along with Milano Cortina in 2026. It’s all very exciting and will be fun, and I will always be there for her.”

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