Local biathletes are thrilled with plans by the City to build a new biathlon range in support of the upcoming 2019 Canada Winter Games to be held in Red Deer.
Brad and Devin Saunders, 17 and 14, began competing in biathlons when they each turned 12 as part of a program offered through Cadets.
Devin, the youngest of the pair, recently took gold in the Alberta Cadet Biathlon Championships Provincials in Canmore, in which his coach Captain Kelli Kosack said that it was Devin’s focus and determination that landed him the gold medal win during the race.
“There are some races where if you are a really strong skier then you have a really good chance because if you miss a target then you have to ski penalty loops so if you can ski those fast enough it wont affect you,” said Kosask, explaining that it was Devin’s fast penalty loop skiing that led to his win in Canmore.
“Other races it is imperative to have strong shooting skills because you will incur a time penalty if you miss the target and you will lose a lot of time that way.”
While the Cadets Biathlon program is a great way for local kids to get involved in the cross-country skiing/rifling hybrid sport, the Cadets program is not part of the sanctioned Biathlon Alberta program, nor is there a sanctioned Biathlon Alberta club in Red Deer.
“It can be a great stepping stone for kids because with the Cadets biathlon program everything is paid for, they don’t have to have skis or a rifle – the program will provide all of that for them,” explained Kosack.
“Many kids will get involved for that reason because there’s no way they could afford to do it otherwise because skis and rifles are both very expensive things – then eventually they can start racing on their own and obtain their own equipment which is exactly what Devin and Brad did.”
Devin remains a member of the Cadets program, however as both of the Saunders boys’ love for the sport developed, they began to look for a sanctioned club to compete in. They were left with the decision to join a club in either Calgary or Edmonton if they wished to continue their biathlon careers.
The pair decided on the Foothills Nordic Biathlon Club based out of Calgary and which trains out of Canmore. This decision would mean a huge time commitment for the family, however the boys’ mother, Dawn Saunders explained this meant the boys also would have to choose between biathlon and other sports as there simply wasn’t enough time.
For Brad, the decision was easy – he wanted to train harder for the sport he loved.
“I played lacrosse for 11 seasons and then it got to the point just like it did with hockey and Cadets to continue or to train harder for biathlon – but that’s what I love most about biathlon is the focus and determination you learn and need,” explained Brad. “It’s a completely different mindset going from skiing as fast as you can to coming in and shooting and getting the heart rate down to be able to hit those targets.”
Devin added that for him it’s simply the thrill of the race that keeps him training.
While Devin continues to do regular school programming due to his age through Hunting Hills High School, Brad has opted to do the majority of his Grade 12 year via correspondence which means he has more time to travel to make the three-hour drive to Canmore to train.
Many of their fellow Foothills Club members attend the National Sports School in Calgary – a specialized athletics-focused school which provides primarily correspondence-based learning for students who are actively pursuing professional athletic careers leaving them more time to train.
Doing his senior year by correspondence means Brad has the chance to travel to Canmore Thursday evenings and with the support of his club stay and train Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and return home for school on Monday.
Currently the only local facilities available to Red Deer biathletes is the biathlon shooting range at the River Bend Recreation Area, which was constructed to host the Alberta Winter Games in 1988 and has since hosted a Canada Cup in 1998.
“There’s bean some interest in biathlon since our rally for the winter games bid to start a biathlon club here in Red Deer, but without a coach and the necessary funding and proper ranges with proper lighting it’s hard,” explained the boys’ mother, who is currently working alongside the City to assist with the new ranges.
“So we are very excited for them to be building the new biathlon range for the 2019 Canada Winter Games.”
Currently the brothers are training for the 2015 National Biathlon Championships, which will take place in Hinton from March 10th to 15th. It will be their last race of the winter season.
The fun and training won’t stop there though as they carry on into the summer season which consists of a circuit of roller ski biathlon races.
This past summer, Brad received international recognition when he brought home two silver medals from the North American Roller Ski Biathlon Championships in Jericho, Vt.
The sport has allowed the brothers to not only travel to a number of states to compete but also to see a large portion of their home country having attended races in Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.