Top-ranked NU fencer Sky Miller explains why she’s competing

Daily archive photo by Brian Weng

Northwestern fencers celebrate after a fight at the 2021 NCAA Championships. Miller was second in saber, the best result in program history.

Sky Miller, a second-year saber at Northwestern, finished second in his 2020 campaign in the United States – the highest ranking in program history. This story is an episode of the “Why I Play” series, where the Wildcats discuss their love for their sport and how they got started.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily: What sparked your interest in fencing?

Miller: I started fencing when I was 10 years old. I used to dance semi-competitively, but my dad hated going to competitions. During the 2012 Olympics, they were showing fencing on NBC, and my dad saw it and said, “I’m going to sign you up in the fall for that.”

The Daily: What was it like to play and compete during the pandemic?

Miller: As it was my first year on the team, there were a lot of adjustments. One of the main ones was getting used to fencing with a mask as we had to put a COVID mask under our fencing masks. I also always had to be ready for a change because schools could drop out at any time if someone didn’t feel well or if they didn’t feel comfortable competing. I really got closer to the people who were there during the winter of last year.

The Daily: Do you have an athlete who inspires you?

Miller: There is a French fencer, Cecilia Berder, and her fencing style is so free. She helped me understand that I don’t have to be so serious all the time because it’s fun – it’s playing with swords. There is also a Ukrainian fencer, Olga Kharlan, who is just very dedicated to the sport and has been for a long, long time.

The Daily: What was the most important lesson you learned from fencing?

Miller: Elasticity. On a weekend you can have a really bad competition or even several bad events and then somehow you have to pick yourself up, get rid of it and start over. You will have another competition next weekend, and it all matters the same, so you can’t just put all your eggs in one basket and then phone everyone else.

The Daily: Have you had any weak points with fencing? How did you overcome them?

Miller: During my freshman year of high school I was trying to be part of the world cadet team, US 16 and under division world team for junior year is crazy – you visit colleges and try to do world championships and take part in all national and international tournaments. You also study and pass the SAT, ACT, AP, and that was a lot. I missed (the world team) by one place. I took a little break because I was just tired. I was concentrating more on school and trying to catch up with my friends. I started playing for fun again because it felt more like a job than something I enjoyed doing.

The Daily: Do you have a message for young fencers?

Miller: Consistency: systematically show up for training, systematically show up for your individual lessons, systematically show up for competitions and give everything you have. It doesn’t happen overnight – you have to slowly see where your weaknesses are and develop them day by day, practice by practice.

The Daily: Do you have a favorite fencing memory?

Miller: Last year, the Northwestern fencing team did a mock meet before our first competition. Fencing is a lonely sport, and for the first time, I had three people with whom I traveled regularly. To have a group of people who fully support you no matter how well you perform, who encourage and uplift you and want you to be successful with all their hearts was really great. I don’t think I’ll forget it.

E-mail: [email protected]

Related stories:

Fencing: Northwestern looks to build on historic 2021 season

Fencing: Northwestern makes history with 3rd place at NCAA Championships

Fencing: Northwestern goes 3-3 on senior weekends


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