Champion skier enjoys UAF lifestyle

Grace Bifelt stands outside the Patty Center with the winter sunset in the background
Grace Miller

Two unique features have marked life at UAF since its earliest days, and Grace Miller has embraced both. She skis on the cross-country team, and, like many students, she lives in a cabin without running water.

Miller’s pursuit of the UAF lifestyle, though, comes with an extra challenge. She does it all with just one hand, a condition she’s had since birth.

And she does it well. In January 2019, she won the U.S. Paralympics national championship standing sprint race.

Miller was born in Guangzhou, China. She was missing her left forearm. When she was 3 years old, Kymberly Miller of Palmer adopted her.

“My mom used to be a ski coach, so I’ve been skiing since I was 3,” she said.

Now she competes not only as a regular UAF team member but also in national and international para Nordic skiing events. In January 2020, one year after her win at U.S. nationals in Craftsbury, Vermont, she took ninth in the world para Nordic standing sprint in Germany.

Grace Miller posing for a UAF athletics photo shoot

She hopes to go to the 2022 Winter Paralympics in Beijing, China.

The training is intense. “My version of training is so different from what I did in high school,” she said. “In college, we train 20 hours (per week).”

And the skiers are tough. They don’t move workouts inside unless the temperature falls below minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

A biology major, Miller focuses her studies on physiology, which matches well with her interest in athletics. She plans to seek more medical education to become a physician assistant after graduating from UAF.

Students like Miller often seek out “dry” cabins to cut costs and live in the woodsy neighborhoods near campus. Several other ski team members also live in such cabins, she said.

Miller stayed on campus her freshman year, which she said was “really fun.” But she likes cooking for herself and enjoys her cabin’s cozy atmosphere.

“I have a little heater that heats up the cabin,” she said. “The only thing is I have to haul my own water.”