Nordic skier Grace Miller, who made her Paralympic debut at the Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018, will be enjoying her mother’s homemade soup this weekend before she moves off to college after graduating from Alaska’s Palmer High School next week.
Headed off to ski on a scholarship five hours away at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, the 18-year-old, born without a left forearm and adopted from China at age 3 by her mother Kymberly, is gearing up to leave home.
That’s why this Sunday’s Mother’s Day will be extra special for the Millers.
“It’s just me and my mom,” Miller said. “I love it and I hate it. I get all of the attention all of the time, which can be great at times, but other times it’s a lot of expectations. But she’s supporting me 100 percent and always has dinner for me at all the random hours I come home from training, which is amazing and wonderful.
“She’s always been there for me. Whatever I’ve wanted to do, she’s always backed me 100 percent. When she found out I was going to the Paralympics, she was so excited. She cried so much. It was like seeing her dream fulfilled, too.”
Pushing with one pole, Miller was in a whole new territory in March in PyeongChang, qualifying for the Games relatively late on Feb. 1 after competing at a world cup event in Canmore, Alberta, where she used her passport for the first time.
In PyeongChang, Miller finished 10th in the 15-kilometer cross-country, 12th in the 4x2.5km cross-country and 18th in the 7.5km cross-country in the standing category.
“It was the most motivating event I’ve ever been to,” Miller said. “My performances definitely could have been better, but I wasn’t expecting much going into it because I was still so new.”
But her results are almost secondary; the point is that it all happened so fast.
Miller was adopted by her mother, an outdoor enthusiast and ski coach, at age 3. She was brought from an orphanage made of stone in Guangzhou, China, to wintry Alaska, where outdoor pursuits became a way for the two to quickly bond.
Miller was only 4 when her mother first placed her feet in ski boots.
“I probably wouldn’t have spent so much time outdoors if it wasn’t for her,” she said. “I remember laying in the snow a lot and my mom always telling me to get up. There were usually skis right there and she would tell me to get on them and get moving.”
Miller’s childhood was full of outdoor ambitions, both on and off the snow, and she was part of the Nordic skiing team at the same middle school and high school that two-time Paralympic alpine skiing medalist Andrew Kurka attended. Though it wasn’t until last year when she met a U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing development coach at a two-day Challenge Alaska clinic for physically impaired cross-country skiers that the Paralympic Winter Games became attainable. The event was supposed to teach technique and encourage participation, but Miller had so much success that she was invited to a training camp in Oregon, and from there, the world cup in Canmore.
The rest, as they say, is history, with Miller taking it all in stride.
“She’s a walking slice of humble pie,” her high school cross-country ski coach Mikey Evans told local media at the time. “I wish that everybody who coaches could have a Grace Miller on the team.”
Now, as she continues to adjust to the international stage and “figure it out,” Miller is looking up to Alaskan Olympic skiers like Kikkan Randall, along with Paralympic multi-medalists such as Oksana Masters and Andy Soule, hoping to one day stand atop a podium herself.
She wants to spend the summer getting fit in the gym and mentally preparing herself to learn to ski even on the days she doesn’t want to.
“If you think about it, four years really isn’t that long, and I have a lot of ground to cover before then,” she said, unprompted, already looking ahead to Beijing 2022.
“I don’t know yet what’s next,” she continued, anxiously excited, “I’m just waiting for my coaches to send me an email.”
But at least for now, for this weekend, she won’t be refreshing her email; she’ll be too focused on eating homemade Alaskan soup and spending quality time with her mother.