Millie Knight, now a valued Kent Sport Clinic staff member, has achieved what many of us could only dream of, over the expanse of her career. An ex-Kent Sport Scholar, Millie has been competing since the age of 15, winning several world titles and Skiing for Great Britain in the 2014 and 2021 Para-Olympics! Once a former University of Kent student, Millie studied Psychology and graduated in 2021. Having been a part of the Sports Scholarship Scheme, we caught up with Millie to find out how she is getting on.
Q) What did you study at Kent, when did you graduate and what have you been up to since graduation?
A) I studied psychology at Kent and left in 2021. I have been fairly busy since then, with World Championships, World Cups and a Paralympic Games but taking this year away from skiing has allowed me to return to Kent Sport as a Sports Massage Therapist.
Q) What are your fondest memories of studying at Kent and aside from getting your degree what skills did you learn whilst at university that have helped you in later life?
A) I have so many fond memories of studying at Kent, from the early morning rowing sessions down at the lake, to roller discos and of course, the amazing friends I made. University really taught me how to manage my time effectively, learning how to prioritise things whilst also understanding when I needed help and being able to ask for that help. There are so many brilliant opportunities at Kent but it’s up to you to go and seize those opportunities, don’t let the three years pass you by, they go so quickly! Appreciate your short time at Kent and make the most of it, especially as a Sports Scholar, you have access to such incredible resources that you wouldn’t ordinarily get.
Q) You were a Kent Sports Scholar during your time at university, how did the Scheme support you to continue skiing and competing whilst studying?
A) When I was looking at universities, Kent offered the best and most comprehensive sports scholar scheme, which was incredible! Not only did it support me financially, but the S&C coaching was second-to-none, and the physiotherapy sessions with Vicky were exceptional. I was so lucky to have had such talented professionals work with me. Aside from the sport support, the academic flexibility meant that I could still travel and compete during term time, meaning I never missed a competition.
Q) You started your Kent Sport journey as an Honorary Junior member before joining the Scholarship Scheme, can you comment on how the Strength and Conditioning (S&C) programme and our coaches have improved your performance?
A) I was still at school when I started as a junior member, working three times a week with a 1-1 S&C coach. I was so fortunate to have had this support from such a young age as it helped build the foundations of my strength and gym-based performance. Kent was a safe and nurturing environment for me to grow and build my confidence, in what could have been a scary and intimidating gym, but all the staff and coaches made me feel so welcome. I made such huge leaps and bounds during my time as a member, from only having a few medals to my name, to becoming World No.1, I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it without Kent Sport.
Q) For the novice skier, can you simply explain your skiing disciplines and detail how para-athletes compete?
A) I compete in all 5 para-alpine disciplines: Slalom, Giant Slalom, Super-G, Super Combined and Downhill. I am visually impaired with 5% sight, so I ski with my sighted guide, Brett Wild (an officer in the Royal Navy). We communicate through Bluetooth headsets in our helmets and Brett tells me everything I need to know, from technical and tactical commands to terrain changes and snow conditions. It’s my responsibility to maintain the distance between us through constant communication and feedback. The 5 events increase in speed, from slalom being the slowest at roughly 30-40kph all the way to Downhill, reaching speeds of up to 125kph.
Q) Can you talk us through how you first got into skiing, and do you remember your first experience skiing on real snow?
A) I lost my sight at the age of 6 and it was at this point my parents decided to take me skiing (as you do!) and it was from this point that I became obsessed with skiing and wanted to go more and more. The freedom that skiing gave me was like nothing else at the time!
Q) Lots of people would have experienced skiing and other snow sports when they were younger, but can you tell us when you first decided to transition to competing and your memories of your first competitions.
A) London 2012 was a turning point for me in my sporting career. I attended the opening ceremony of the Paralympics and distinctly remember watching the athletes carrying their nation’s flags and representing their country and thinking to myself, that’s what I want to do. 2 years later, I was given that opportunity, I was selected to carry the British flag at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Paralympics, aged 15.
Q) Access to snow sports in the UK remains an obvious challenge but what advice would you give aspiring juniors who wish to follow in your footsteps and build their confidence and competitiveness on the slopes?
A) For people with disabilities, I would highly recommend getting in touch with the fantastic charity, Disability Snowsport UK. They provide an excellent opportunity for anyone, no matter their age or ability to access skiing. This is how I initially got introduced to the world of para-skiing because at the time the GB team was run by them. My advice would be to always take opportunities, and be grateful to everyone that helps you.
Q) As well as the challenge of accessing snow, winter sports are also considered very expensive with respect to travel and the volume of equipment required – how can aspiring skiers progress on land in the UK before they arrive in Europe or beyond and hit the white stuff?
A) I was very fortunate when I started that 90% of my sponsors and supporters were local to Canterbury, which meant I was able to engage with them often and on a more personal basis. My advice would be to seek support close to home, businesses are more likely to want to help a local athlete as this helps to build a greater partnership.
Q) Your skiing journey is epic concluding in medals at the Winter Paralympics! Can you comment on the key milestones that helped you progress to representing and winning for Team GB?
A) At the age of 12, joining the GB team was an incredibly surreal experience for me. Being referred to as an ‘athlete’ still felt like a shock, as it was a label, I never imagined I would have at such a young age. My first international medal was in 2012 with my mum as my ski guide. Selected for Sochi 2014 as Britons youngest Winter Paralympian on my 15th and carrying the flag at the opening ceremony was beyond surreal, then coming 5th in both my events was an invaluable experience. I won my first silver and bronze world championship and world cup gold medals in 2015. Partnered with my guide Brett in 2016 and competed in my first Downhill and Super-G events. 2017 saw us win our first 4 world championship medals and my first major crash. After 6 months of horrible rehab from concussion, I was selected for my second Paralympics in 2018 where we won 2 silver and a bronze medal. The pre-paralympic rushed rehab meant that I had to dedicate more time to fully recovering, post-Games. A couple of World Cups and Europa Cups then Covid hit. Yes, my fourth concussion happened in 2021 which was a real setback, physically and mentally. 2022 was my third World Championships where we added a gold and bronze to the collection and for the first time received prize money (a big moment for the sport). We won our third overall world cup title before winning bronze in the Downhill at the 2022 Winter Paralympics.
Q) Your sporting career and achievements are formidable; can you pick your highest point or proudest moment?
A) It’s hard to say which is my proudest moment, every result has unique aspects, from returning from injury and a horrible crash to win my first Paralympic medal in 2018, to becoming GB’s first Snowsport World Champion (para or able-bodied) but I have to say receiving my Honorary Doctorate in 2017 before getting my A-Level results was definitely an incredible moment.
Q) You have returned full circle to Kent Sport as part of the Kent Sports Clinic Team as a Massage Therapist (appointments are currently available online with Millie for Sports Massage) – Can you comment on your journey into this field and the satisfaction you get from treating and working with new athletes?
A) I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a physio so when I was 16 I did my first level of Sports Massage. I started using my new skill straight away, treating skiers whilst I was away training. I then qualified as a gym instructor and started working in the gym and taking exercise classes at Kent in 2019. After this I became a personal trainer and progressed through the Sports Massage qualifications, joining the physio clinic in 2020. I absolutely love working in the clinic, I have such a passion for sports massage and it’s great to be able to help people feel better!
Q) Have you treated any Sports Scholars recently and discussed your experience or time on the Scheme?
A) I treat sports scholars on a daily basis, I absolutely love hearing about everyone’s experiences and how their careers are progressing! I particularly love hearing about minority sports and getting updates on competition results!
Q) Graduating students face many challenges and those with a sporting passion often find it challenging to continue alongside the distractions of work and life, but can you comment on how you’ve continued to focus on competitive sport and continued to compete whilst also achieving your career ambitions?
A) My first coach said to me as a child, “you are only as successful in sport as you are in school.” That quote has stayed with me throughout my career and always motivates me to train hard and never let my studies suffer. It can be tough to manage time well when competing and studying, especially during the race season and assignment deadlines. Always staying disciplined with a structured routine has helped me along the way. A healthy brain helps for a healthy body.
Q) Since your most recent success on the slopes you have explored different sport formats, can you detail your experience so far with these sports and what your remaining ambitions are with respect to competitive sports?
A) During my first year at Kent, my friends inspired me to try karate which I thought was quite funny (how can a blind girl do karate?) I absolutely loved it from the first session. Somehow, since leaving Kent I was selected onto the English para team and have gone on to win numerous medals in Kata and become English national, British and Commonwealth Champion. Recently I competed at the European Championships in Spain and narrowly missed out in the bronze medal final, becoming the first English para-athlete to compete at this level.
Q) You are the first female to be inducted into the Kent Sports Scholarship Hall of Fame and are an inspiration to so many female athletes. Can you comment on the growing kudos around female sports in the UK currently and your excitement for the future of female athletes and women’s sports?
A) It’s brilliant to have been included in the Kent Sports Scholarship Hall of Fame but I hope I will be the first of many inspiring women. It is an exciting time for Women’s sports in the UK; as female athletes become household names, inspiring the younger generation of British athletes to dream big and achieve their goals, knowing anything is possible. An increased awareness and support for female sports is something that I believe Kent Sport is doing very well, by promoting diversity and inclusivity in sports, and by creating a more equal playing field for all athletes. Overall, the future looks bright for female athletes, and I am optimistic about the positive impact this will have on university students and the wider community.
Q) Team GB appears to be getting stronger and more competitive in Winter Sports and with more champions and personalities becoming household names after each Winter Olympics. Is the future bright for Snowsports?
A) It’s truly impressive how British athletes continue to excel in snowsports despite the UK’s relatively small size and lack of mountainous terrain. This is a testament to the dedication and talent of British athletes, as well as the increased awareness and funding for snowsports in the UK. Thanks to this support, we have seen a marked improvement in the performances of British snowsport athletes, which is reflected in their growing list of achievements.
Moreover, the improved accessibility of snowsports in the UK has played a vital role in this success. With skiing holidays becoming more affordable, and local indoor and dry slope centres providing a convenient and cost-effective way of getting into the sport, snowsports are more accessible to people from all backgrounds than ever before. This has helped to increase the talent pool of snowsports enthusiasts and fostered a more inclusive and diverse snowsports community in the UK.
Finally, congratulations again on being inducted into the Kent Sports Scholars ‘Hall of Fame’, can you provide one final comment as an ambassador for Kent Sports, firstly as a Junior Honorary Athlete, then as a student and a Scholar and finally now as a fully-fledged staff member at the Kent Sports Clinic?
A) I love that I have done a full circle at Kent Sport, starting as a junior athlete at 16, then becoming a student and scholar, to now working as a member of staff in the physio clinic. I grew up in Canterbury and have travelled the world since, but Kent will always be my home and I am proud to be able to give back to Kent Sport by helping the next generation of athletes.