Grace Miller competes in the Women's 15km Free, Visually Impaired Cross Country event at Alpensia Biathlon Centre during day three of the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Games on March 12, 2018 in Pyeongchang-gun, South Korea.
The ripple effects of COVID-19 have caused Olympic and Paralympic athletes everywhere to adjust training schedules and methods, but Para Nordic skier Grace Miller hasn’t let that slow down her charge toward the Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing.
While Miller has spent her summer hiking, mountain biking, kayaking and swimming around the Alaska mountains, she’s also been training 15 hours a week with plans of returning to college for more.
In a normal year, the season would start on May 1, but with that on hold, Miller had been training by herself until joining up with Alaska Nordic Racing.
“That was the first time I've ever trained so much by myself so it was kind of sad,” she said. “So, I realized how important the team atmosphere and how motivating it is to be around other people and work out with them.”
Training at University of Alaska Fairbanks, where Miller will be a junior this fall, starts August 24 however practices this semester will have a different purpose. Skiers would normally be preparing for four or five competitions with multiple races, but since all of those have been cancelled, they’ll be forced to focus on training with their long-term form in mind.
“Our training's going to have to be different because usually we have a certain schedule where we like amp up to races, but now we won't have that. So that's going to be weird,” she said. “It's going to actually be a lot like what we do over the summer with a lot of high-volume training versus when we're in race season, we have low volume training.
“I have to change it to looking more long term. Since the Beijing Paralympics are shockingly super soon, this is what I'm working towards now instead of the smaller races.”
Competitive skiing wasn’t always the dream for Miller, who was born in China without a left forearm before being adopted at the age of three.
“I've been skiing just for fun for most of my life, but in high school I actually quit skiing for year because I was just really frustrated with it,” she said. “So, it wasn't until senior year of high school. When I got recruited for the U.S. Paralympic team that I realized I could actually do this and be competitive in it.”
Miller didn’t start training year-round until then and was able to represent Team USA at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Paralympic Games. As a rookie she placed 10th in the 15km cross country race.
"It was insane looking back at it, everything happens so fast,” she said. “So I met [Beth Chamberlain] and she was the recruiter at the time I met her in February and then just a year later I was skiing in the Paralympics in South Korea.
“I was like ‘Whoa, what just happened?’”
With more time to practice as she returns to school, Miller is looking to use another full year of training to refine techniques to be more prepared for the next Winter Paralympics, hoping for strong results in Beijing.
“I gained so much fitness and learned a lot of technique and everything. Now that I've been doing that for two years, I'm just a lot more confident in myself because I just have so much more fitness compared to what I did [in PyeongChang].
“I absolutely love the sport and the community of people, but still, I know I can definitely be a lot better.”