Milly Pickles – Influencer and Para-athlete

TikTok is the app that many turned their noses up at and cast aside as yet another ‘Gen Z’ fad. But the social media platform – which allows users to share video content with their followers – remains impossible to ignore. Over 3.7 million active users in the UK engage with the app for an average of 41 minutes-a-day. 

As the world hurtled into a near-global lockdown and the sporting calendar was put on hold, athletes took refuge in the app’s fun challenges and some even used it to spread the message of social distancing and staying at home.

From the Lionesses performing freestyle tricks with loo roll, to British sprinters showing off their silverware and raising money for the NHS with the #DontRushChallenge – TikTok has been the trend that has converted even its toughest critics.

Telegraph Sport spoke to three athletes who took their new-found free time in their stride and became TikTok viral sensations. 

For Milly Pickles, the split second that changed her life is a moment she isn’t able to recall. The 23 year-old was a student at Bournemouth University back in 2017, when she was electrocuted and injuries left her fighting for her life. It resulted in Pickles having her right leg amputated.

Though devastating, Pickles was adamant that her love for sport wasn’t going to end because of her disability.

“I’ve always been very sporty and so have my family. After my accident, I joined a netball team and it was pretty good to be honest, I was captain for a while – it was a fully abled-body team and I was pretty proud of that.

“I just realised that this is the time now that I want to try and pursue my sporting goals to compete competitively. That’s when I got a running blade and started sharing it online.”

She began sharing videos on TikTok of the process of learning to run with her blade, something she felt was missing when she first had her accident and was looking to hear about other people’s experiences.

“When I first lost my leg, I looked for people online and I literally couldn’t find anyone. I came across this girl that was from Brazil – she looked lovely, but I haven’t got a clue what she was saying,” she laughs. “I really wanted to have someone to relate to and since I started posting everything online, a lot of amputees ask me, what’s the best leg to get? What happens at this point? And so on.” 

From informative videos on training as an amputee to light-hearted responses to comments that fans send in; Pickles uses her platform to engage daily with her audience. 

Sharing her journey on social media has given her the ability to track her progress and build a community of 201.3k followers with 43 million likes. One that has now been backed by athletics brand, Gym Shark as she becomes their first para-athlete partnership.

Pickles’ passion for raising awareness around disabilities comes across on videocall, as she animatedly recalls anecdotes of the messages she has received

off the back of her viral TikTok videos.   “I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘you’ve made me feel better because I might be having to lose my leg. And you’ve made me realise life is good, and that it’s fine’. Knowing that I can help people and provide comfort makes me really happy.”

Those messages of support and advice are far removed from some of the initial comments Pickles received – many that she puts down to ignorance around disabilities which she is trying to help change.

“People were like, ‘If I lost my leg, I’d want to kill myself’. And it’s like, is my life really that bad? And it’s not, I’m very happy. I think if you just imagine it, you can’t fathom it. But when you’re living it, [you] get through it.” 

But that does not outweigh the positives she has experienced since starting her profile earlier this year, which Pickles says provides her with motivation during more difficult moments.

“It is so overwhelming, you just scroll through and I’m like ‘how are they being so nice’. It’s just so warming knowing that everybody is so lovely and I’m doing a good thing and they appreciate it. I don’t think it’s a bad place and I’m genuinely very grateful for social media. And it’s also helped me connect with so many people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise.”

Whilst Pickles has only been running with her blade for a month, she has her sights set on returning to competitive sports and is taking her fan base alongside her on the journey.