Back home, British celebrity Heather Mills (above) is a favourite of the tabloid media, for good or ill.
Over here in Queenstown, competing at the biennial Audi quattro Winter Games NZ, she’s just another chilled out beanie-wearing member of the snow crowd.
The famed ex-wife of Beatle Sir Paul McCartney was kicking back relaxing in the downtown Games Village in Queenstown last night, with the rest of the athletes and public before her medal ceremony.
An “over the moon” Mills picked up a Winter Games silver yesterday in the International Paralympic Committee adaptive slalom up Coronet Peak, a big step toward her Paralympic dream.
Mills, who lost her left leg below the knee when hit as a pedestrian by a police motorcycle in 1993, was all smiles before going on stage to collect her medal, saying it’s an amazing result for her.
Mills speciality is downhill speed racing not slalom – and this was only her third adaptive slalom event.
Athletes aiming to make the British team for the Paralympic Games in Sochi, Russia, next year must get good results across a range of skiing disciplines – Mills is one of eight pushing for five British team spots.
A stoked Mills said: “It was massively important for me so I’m over the moon. I never thought I would get a medal.”
Ranked 28th in the world, Mills – who skis with a prosthetic leg – clocked a combined time of two minutes and nine seconds. Melanie Scwartz of the United States came in 10 seconds faster to win.
The pair survived a rough day on the Coronet Peak course, which saw just 26 of the 42 adaptive athletes make it through their first run.
“It was like a sheet of ice,” Mills said. “You just have to chuck yourself down and hope for the best. The start pitch is so steep, you just freefall to your death basically to make the first gate – if you don’t push off fast enough you haven’t got a chance.
“It’s quite scary when you’re freefalling down. If you’re not right on the edge of your skis, you are out.”
Mills had plenty of praise for the volunteers and organisers for pulling the event off in tough conditions, saying they’re all incredibly determined to ensure athletes get to race.
“You could go to some countries and it would have been called off but everybody here is so determined. We could have come all the way and the race could have been cancelled. The crew up the hill did a brilliant job.”
It’s not just the event impressing Mills – she says Queenstown is amazing, having last visited in summer more than 15 years ago when she did a bike tour around the country.
“It’s grown a lot – just all the shops. It’s beautiful. My coach is from Scotland and he said it’s like Scotland on steroids.”
Mills had little time to savour her result last night, with a second Games World Cup adaptive slalom race up Coronet Peak today.
“We want to but I can’t celebrate as we have another race tomorrow. It’s a bummer – my girlfriend really wants a glass of sauvignon blanc. I’ve told her to go for it but she won’t in support of me.”
Mills’ coach John Clark says she skied close to her potential in the second run – and the adaptive athletes like her who include sight impaired and wheel-chair bound competitors blow him away.
“There aren’t words to describe what these athletes are all about. I’m relieved she’s got this slalom result – because she’s rock solid in the speed events.”
Mills added she can’t wait to race in her preferred downhill speed events – the Super G and Super Combined World Cup races – at Canterbury’s Mt Hutt field at the end of the month.
Games entertainment today
What: Live music with Calico, DJ Ribera
Where: Games Village, Earnslaw Park, Queenstown
When: 6pm, 7pm
What: Live music TeHight
Where: Games Village, Ardmore Street, Wanaka
Picture: Hannah Johnston, Getty Images (Heather Mills action picture)