LANSING, Mich. -- A skier plunges into cold weather intense enough to warp the metal on the weapon slung to their back. They and other competitors cut through kilometer after kilometer of the snow-covered forest before quickly unslinging their weapons to aim at their prey.

There's no use pausing to catch their breath; every second spent aiming is the time in their rivals' favor, so the biathlete must keep their eye fastened to their sights as their muzzle swings to the rhythm of their breath.

"You can't stand up with a 180 bpm heart rate and hold that rifle on the target," said Maj. Jennifer McLean-Ellis, promotable, a Michigan National Guard Surface Maintenance Division Chief at Joint Forces Headquarters in Lansing.

So she waits for the sight to weave its way over the target, then pulls the trigger.

Biathlons are the ultimate challenge for a Michigan warrior in marksmanship, movement, and communication rooted in the hunting and military traditions of Scandinavia.

The Michigan Biathlon team challenges Michigan Air and Army Guardsmen to a peak of athleticism and accuracy that the native climate demands. McLean-Ellis has risen to that challenge now two years in a row, having claimed first place in the 2018 and 2019 Central Regional Championships.

"I didn't do too badly this time," she said, referencing her 2019 accomplishment.

Now she's scouting for other interested athletes to join her in the national competition. She claims anyone with a propensity for athleticism and marksmanship is an excellent candidate, regardless of whether they've ever touched skis.

"If they're in good shape, have a decent PT test, can run two miles without stopping and if they're a good shot, they can be a candidate. Any kind of athletic or marksmanship inclination is great," McLean-Ellis said.

In 2018, she helped quickly instruct the first team of Virgin Island National Guardsmen to compete in the Central Regional Championship.

"These guys have never been on skis before," McClean-Ellis said. Virgin Islands National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 4 Mervyn Mills had two days to train before the race. The first day, driving rain kept them from practicing on the trails. "The second day, he got a lesson in the morning and raced in the afternoon. He just double-pulled the whole way so he didn't have to move his feet."

Double-pulling is a method where the skier doesn't move their feet while they use the strength of their entire bodies to propel themselves forward with their ski poles. McLean-Ellis claims it requires less skill but an intense amount of core strength.

Another competitor, U.S. Virgin Islands National Guard Capt. Marcus Sydney, a triathlete, completed both the 7.5 km Sprint Race and the 10 km Pursuit Format Race in the novice category, despite the competition being his first time on skis.

"He was skiing really well by the end of the week," McClean-Ellis said.

The biathlon team was and continues to be, an excellent opportunity for Michigan and U.S. Virgin Islands state partners to collaborate and strengthen their National Guardsmen.

The biathlon nationals will be held at Camp Ethan Allen Training Center in Vermont on a course located in the same hills as the Army Mountain Warfare School. The event will run from February 22 - March 1. If you're interested in joining the National Guard Biathlon Team, contact Jennifer McLean-Ellis at jennifer.l.mcleanellis.mil@mail.mil -- preferably before February 22, especially if you have never skied before.