By Amie Henderson
When I meet Millie, there are precisely 178 days to go until the 2018 Winter Paralympics. Millie knows this number in a heartbeat. In many ways she’s been counting down for years.
Aged one, Millie caught an infection in her right eye and very soon lost the majority of her sight in that eye. Five years later the same thing happened to her left eye. “My sight is now pretty rubbish,” she tells me. Around the same time, Millie skied for the first time in Meribel and can still remember skiing with sight. “I’d caught the bug, I was hooked. I wanted to keep on skiing.”
In 2010 Millie contacted Disability Snowsports UK and was invited to join the British Disabled Ski Team development squad in 2011. She started racing with her mum as her guide in 2012 and even won a bronze medal in one of their four races together. “I’m relieved not to be her guide now!” Millie’s mum, Suzanne, tells me.
Of course 2014 was also a Winter Olympic year. Millie represented Team GB in the slalom and giant slalom events in Sochi, finishing an incredible fifth in both competitions. She even carried the flag at the opening ceremony. “I wasn’t expecting to go to Sochi, my goal was firmly on the Winter 18 Games. It was an amazing, whirlwind experience for me, one that I’ll never forget. I kept thinking, “What am I doing here?” But it was just a rehearsal for that’s to come this winter.”
2017 is Millie’s first year as a full time athlete, having just finished school with a measly three A*s in her A Levels! Her guide is Brett Wild, a submariner in the Royal Navy and the man tasked with leading Millie all the way to PyeongChang. The pair each wear a Sena Bluetooth headset in their helmets to communicate with each other, Brett explains what piste conditions are like and highlights any lumps, bumps and obstacles on the snow.
“The psychological part of competing is probably the most important element for us right now.” Brett tells me. “In our second week skiing together we competed in the World Cup finals. I think we’ve built up quite a high level of trust already!” As Millie explains, “80% of what Brett and I do is psychological, the remaining 20% is based on our performance on any race day. We must have no doubts, no fears at all at the starting gate.”
Now, I don’t know about you, but skiing on any reasonably sleep piste in anything other than perfect blue bird conditions makes me feel slightly scared. With Millie’s vision so limited, it must be like skiing in a permanent whiteout. “People always ask me if it’s scary, but it isn’t. I don’t really see the hazards that are on the slopes, I certainly don’t see each gate and that’s why a good guide is so important.”
Aside from time spent with Sports Psychologist Kelly Faye, Millie dedicates many hours to training in the gym. “Each gym session becomes more important at this stage. The countdown is on and I can’t believe how quickly time is going” explains Millie. With just three weeks off between summer 2017 and April 2018, I wonder how Millie copes with the constant travel, energy and stamina required to be a professional athlete. “It’s hard work sometimes. There’s lots of travel and it was difficult to juggle school with everything else. I do get very tired but it’s the best fun I’ve ever had. Getting up early while on training camps, skiing hard all day, waxing skis, physio sessions, video analysis, supper then bed before doing exactly the same again the following day. I am so lucky to have found a sport that I love.”
Millie is going for gold in five different disciplines in PyeongChang. Look out for her in the women’s downhill, super G, super combined, slalom and super slalom. And if that doesn’t inspire you to nail those red runs on the mountain tomorrow, we’re not sure what will…