COLCHESTER, Vt. – Three Vermont National Guard biathletes are training hard in anticipation of attending the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing, China. If selected, VTARNG members will make up 37 percent of the U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team.
The event would mark the first time Spc. Deedra Irwin takes part in the international games. A member of 86th Troop Command, the 29-year-old biathlete is “excited about the possible opportunity to represent my country and my team. Participating in the Olympics has always been a dream of mine and something I've worked towards for a long time.”
Irwin, a 42A human resource specialist who has served in the Guard just over two years, said she was drawn to the biathlon sport from Nordic ski racing because of the added difficulty of shooting mid-race.
“It combines pure endurance and grit with the steadiness and accuracy of precision shooting, and I’ve never been more challenged in my athletic career than I have been by biathlon,” Irwin said.
Since 1973, the Vermont National Guard has maintained a dedicated biathlon program at the Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, one of the oldest biathlon facilities in the United States.
Of nine elite biathletes now training at CEATS, Maj. Kevin Elmer, National Guard biathlon coordinator, said he expects three will attend the China Olympics: Irwin and Spcs. Leif Nordgren and Sean Doherty. Nordgren and Doherty represented the United States at the 2014 Winter Games in Russia and 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
"Doherty, Nordgren and Irwin also just finished the 2020 World Cup, which means selection for Olympics is highly likely," Elmer said. U.S. members are officially named in January.
Elmer said Solders named to the U.S. National Biathlon Team are placed on year-round, full-time orders. Most of the training is conducted at CEATS, where biathletes reside in athlete barracks complete with a specialized exercise area configured for biathlete training.
"Anytime a Soldier has a top 10 finish at the National Guard Championships, our coaches begin evaluating if they have the potential to make a U.S. national team," Elmer said.
Doherty, a 12W carpentry and masonry specialist with Detachment 1, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Garrison Support Command, is serving his fourth year with the Vermont Army National Guard.
“I joined because I wanted to continue to further my career as an athlete as well as create options for myself going forward. I would say the National Guard biathlon program is one of the best in the nation. If you are serious about competing at a high international level, the program here has all the resources to get you there,” he said.
Nordgren, a 15P aviation operations specialist, joined the Vermont Army National Guard in 2019 “for the short-term goal of getting great support while I finish out my biathlon career and the long-term goal of becoming a pilot.” He is assigned to Detachment 2 Charlie Company, 1st Battalion 224th Aviation Regiment.
“Biathlon is a lot of work. It takes a ton of dedication and personal drive to push yourself to be the best athlete you can be. The Soldiers with those traits will take to biathlon very naturally, as there is always something to improve, whether its ski technique, shooting precision or technique,” he said.
Depending on training cycles, preparations “can be anywhere from 15 to 25 hours per week of purely physical training. Add to those two to 10 hours of shooting training, dry-fire, stretching, proper nutrition, and sleep, biathlon is a full-time job,” Nordgren said.
Elmer mentioned another biathlete, Spc. Vasek Cervenka, with a chance to make the Olympic team.
“He will need to have an amazing summer and fall and outperform some exceptional biathletes, but he is focused on his goal and has a legitimate chance to make his dreams a reality,” he said.
A 12W carpentry and masonry specialist, Cervenka has served in the Vermont Army National Guard for almost three years. “I joined back in early 2019 to help fund my biathlon career, which I hope to finish out as a Guardsman. Then, I’ll explore the other opportunities the Vermont Army National Guard has to offer.”
Elmer said the biathlon program's second mission is training Soldiers across the Army and Air National Guard to move on snow and shoot effectively. Approximately 180 Soldiers from National Guard units across the country gather twice a year to conduct biathlon races in addition to serving with their assigned units across the country.
"We have races and compete against each other. These Soldiers then go back to their home units where they teach the skills they learn to their fellow Soldiers, so that's the primary purpose," he said.
Biathlon training involves cross-country skiing between rifle ranges, where participants engage targets at 50 meters. The exercises help Soldiers shoot accurately after moving quickly across snow-covered terrain.