JERICHO, Vt. (Army News Service) -- More than 120 Guardsmen from 23 states competed in snow and below-freezing temperatures at Camp Ethan Allen Training Site, Vermont, in the National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championship, March 5 to 9.

Biathlon competition combines cross-country skiing with marksmanship to build cardiovascular endurance, said Capt. Kevin Elmer, coordinator of the National Guard biathlon program. The sport teaches competitors to accurately shoot at a target with an elevated heart rate and prepares them "for the rigorous demands of being a Soldier."

The first day of championship competition featured the sprint: a 10-kilometer race for men, and a 7.5K race for the women. The results of the sprint established the order of start for the next day's pursuit. The final competitions were the relay race and the military patrol, in which teamwork played an integral part.

"Everything that is associated with sports, athletics and military competition is ... what makes us special," said Air Force Gen. Jospeh L. Lengyel, chief of the National Guard Bureau, during the awards ceremony Thursday. "We want to excel at everything we do. ... That's why we are the best military force on the planet."

GROWING THE SPORT

The biathlon program attracts a wide range of ranks and career fields, including helicopter and C-130 pilots, commanders, first sergeants, first-term Soldiers and cadets, said Tech. Sgt. Travis Voyer, a biathlon trainer. Additionally, biathlon serves as a retention tool, as a majority of the participating guardsmen choose to re-enlist in order to stay with the program.

"We have found that [biathlon] athletes go on to make great Soldiers," Elmer said. "The focus they gain from the sport really gives them the ability to become outstanding NCOs and officers, in order to help lead their units."

As the coordinator, "growing the sport of biathlon," is one of Elmer's key responsibilities. To accomplish this, he assists with bringing in new talent, identifies Olympic hopefuls and manages the development of the 173 current athletes.

Unfortunately, recruiting for the program has become more difficult, Voyer said. The biathlon development team had to extend their efforts to universities and high schools. To help with the recruitment and awareness process, the biathlon program hosts clinics for a lot of local colleges and high schools.

CHASING THE OLYMPIC DREAM

For the select few guardsmen who are able to compete at an Olympic level, the program can provide a full-time biathlon training opportunity, Elmer said.

For example, 1st Sgt. Dan Westover, assigned to the 172nd Mountain Infantry Regiment, 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was an athlete with the program for 10 years. Westover worked hard, eventually making the All-Guard team and the World Class Athlete Program. He went on to compete in the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

"It was an incredible experience. It was a goal I set many years prior," Westover said. "To finish the last race of the Olympic trials and realize that I achieved what I was working for was an incredible feeling."

Westover believes that everyone, regardless of their career path, should be self-critical and constantly seek improvement. Above all, Soldiers and athletes should, "stay committed to their dreams and understand that there will be good and bad days."

(Follow Devon Suits on Twitter: @SuitsARNEWS)

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The results for the 2017 National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships:

-- March 5 --

Men's Sprint Race:
First: Spc. Tadhg Nakada, Alaska
Second: Col. Duncan Douglas, Rhode Island
Third: Staff Sgt. Jesse Downs, Vermont

Women's Sprint Race:
First: Capt. Barbara Blanke, Utah
Second: Sgt. Samantha Miller, Utah
Third: Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Macgillivary, Maine

Junior Men's Sprint Race:
First: Pvt. Everett Darrow, Alaska
Second: Spc. Jordan Theisen, South Dakota
Third: Pfc. Zach Drayna, Minnesota

-- March 6 --

Men's Pursuit Race:
First: Col. Duncan Douglas, Rhode Island
Second: Spc. Tadhg Nakada, Alaska
Third: Staff Sgt. Jeremy Teela, Utah

Women's Pursuit Race:
First: Capt. Barbara Blanke, Utah
Second: Sgt. Samantha Miller, Utah
Third: Spc. Shawna Thieschafer, Minnesota

Junior men's pursuit race
First: Pfc. Travis Cooper, Alaska
Second: Pvt. Everett Darrow, Alaska
Third: Spc: Jordan Theisen, South Dakota

-- March 7 --

Men's Relay Race:
First: Alaska
Second: Vermont
Third: Minnesota

Women's Relay Race:
First: Utah
Second: Minnesota

-- March 9 --

Military patrol race:
First: Alaska
Second: Minnesota
Third: Vermont

Team Award:(Combines results from both the patrol and relay races)
First: Alaska
Second: Vermont
Third: Minnesota

The All-Guard Team:
Col. Duncan Douglas, Rhode Island
Spc. Tadhg Nakada, Alaska
Staff Sgt. Jesse Downs, Vermont
Capt. Blake Hillerson, North Dakota
Spc. Warren Rosholt, Minnesota
Sgt. Greg Lewindowski, Wisconsin
Pvt. Everett Darrow, Alaska
Lt. Col. Paul Peterson, Minnesota
1st Lt. Erik Gorman, Alaska
Cadet Conrad Roberts, North Dakota
Maj. David Cunningham, Alaska
Spc. Jordan Theisen, South Dakota
Sgt. Alex Goldfarb, Wyoming
1st Sgt. Gerald Robinson, Utah
Sgt. Maj. Shawn Blanke, Utah
Capt. Barbara Blanke, Utah
Sgt. Samantha Miller, Utah
Sfc. Jennifer Macgillivary
Spc. Shawna Thieschafer
1st Lt. Danielle Bean