Why I Play: Sky Miller, the highest-ranked fencer in Northwestern history, discusses resiliency in competition, inspirations


Daily file photo by Brian Weng

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

Alexis Schwartz, Reporter

Sky Miller, a sophomore saber at Northwestern, finished second in her 2020 campaign in the United States — the best ranking in program history. This story is an installment of the “Why I Play” series, where Wildcats discuss their love for their sports and how they got their starts. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Daily: What sparked your interest in fencing?

Miller: I started fencing when I was around 10. I used to dance semi-competitively, but my dad hated going to the 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 playing and competing during the pandemic? 

Miller: Since it was my first year on the team, there were a lot of adjustments. A major one was getting used to fencing with a mask on because we had to fit a COVID mask underneath our fencing masks. I also always had to be ready for a change because schools could drop at any moment if someone wasn’t feeling well or if they didn’t feel comfortable competing. I got really close to the people that were there during the winter last year. 

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

Miller: There is a French fencer, Cecilia Berder, and the way she fences is so free-looking. She helped me understand that I don’t have to be so serious all of the time because this is fun — it’s playing with swords. There is also a Ukrainian fencer, Olga Kharlan, who is just very dedicated to the sport and has remained so for a very, very long time. 

The Daily: What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned through fencing?

Miller: Resiliency. One weekend you can have a really bad competition or even multiple bad events, and then you have to somehow pick yourself up, shake it off and do it again. You will have another competition the next weekend, and all of those matter equally, so you can’t just put all of your eggs in one basket and then phone in everything else. 

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

Miller: During my junior year of high school, I was trying to make the Cadet World Team, the 16-and-under age division world team for the U.S. Junior year is crazy — you’re visiting colleges and trying to make worlds and going to all the domestic and international tournaments. You’re also studying for and taking the SAT, ACT, APs, and it was a lot. I missed (the World Team) by one spot. I took a little break because I was just fatigued. I focused more on school and trying to catch up with friends. I started playing for fun again because it had felt more like a job than something I enjoyed doing. 

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

Miller: Consistency: consistently showing up to practice, consistently showing up to your individual lessons, consistently showing up to competitions and giving everything you have. It is not overnight success — you have to slowly see where your weaknesses are and build them up 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 that I would travel with consistently. Having a group of people who fully support you, regardless of how you perform, who cheer you on and lift you up and want you to succeed wholeheartedly was really great. I don’t think I’ll forget that. 


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