The potential prospect of being blind terrifies me. The idea of skiing down a mountainside at crazy speeds fills me with fear on behalf of the person doing it. So when one of my work colleagues asked me some months ago if I’d heard of Millie Knight, a blind skier, my jaw dropped in fascinated horror and amazement. Of course, since the Winter Paralympics probably just about everyone is aware of Millie Knight, but at that time I knew nothing about her at all. My colleague had read an article about her in our University Sports magazine (a publication which I’d never come across before, having pretty much no interest whatsoever in sport) which she kindly saved for me.
I learnt that Millie Knight is a nineteen-year-old visually impaired skier who participated in the Sochi Winter Paralympics in 2014. She’s lived in Canterbury all her life and was awarded an honorary doctorate of the University in 2017. She lost the majority of the sight in her right eye when she was just a year old, as a result of an infection. Five years later, the same thing happened to her left eye and she was left severely visually impaired with only 5% peripheral vision. She started skiing at that time, first using her mum as her guide and then moving on to work with professional guides. Her current guide is a chap named Brett Wild, whom she relies on to provide her with instructions via a bluetooth headset, which they both wear in their helmets in order to communicate. He wears a bright orange jacket which she’s just about able to make out in the snow ahead of her as she has approximately two metres of peripheral vision. If she loses sight of this bright orange splash of safety, she lets him know via their communication system. It really is utterly astounding and I have so many questions about exactly how they manage it but for now I think I’ll just stick with being amazed.
However something which is, to me, even more impressive is the fact that in early 2017 she had two very serious crashes which badly affected her confidence, but despite this she managed to build herself up again and get back to skiing. She’s said that she can’t actually remember having normal sight and that she doesn’t find skiing scary because she can’t see all the hazards ahead, but the crashes forced her to confront the danger of the sport. The crashes really do sound horrendous. The first left her with cuts to her chin after she skidded under an inflatable barrier which reinflated on top of her; and the second left her with concussion. She’s won two silver medals and one bronze in the Winter Paralympics, which is pretty amazing evidence of the fact that she managed to conquer her fear and get back to skiing. You can read her full story, complete with utterly terrifying video clips of her hurtling down a mountainside at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/skiing_blind_crashing_at_70mph.