Friday, October 29, 2010

"The Importance of Balance in an Athlete's Life"

Yesterday I spoke to my former high school, National Sports Academy, about the importance of balance in an athlete's life. My post-lunch talk is a part of a larger series of speakers, ranging from sports psychologists to farmers, and their perspectives on the process of achieving peak performance. 

One thing I realized in doing this is that the subtleties of finding balance can be so individual and unique, varying greatly from athlete to athlete. So I wish only the best to those that strive!
* * * * *

Here's most of what I had to say:

I do a sport where success can be elusive and fleeting – literally, a hit or miss. I view peak performance a bit in the same way. As an endurance athlete I train all year to prepare for a few minor peaks and one primary summit at World Championships or the Olympics. I could also call these peaks my goals for the competition season.

Visualize the view of Whiteface Mtn.:  Mt. Fuji-like in its symmetry, it emphasizes its peak – the summit – the goal – the top – it is but a mere point, albeit a castle, but nonetheless a small point compared to the mountain, the base, its dimensions and immensity.  For me, the summit represents peak performance and my goals for the season. As athletes, you know you can’t just go from the beginning trailhead of a mountain straight to the summit. That’s why it’s no news to you that the benefits in reaching peak performance are often not just in the goal but also in the process. 

Whiteface Mt. Photo by Shaun Ondak

Instead of being overwhelmed by reaching the summit and achieving my top goals, I reorient myself towards a different focal point – optimal performance. 

This I know I can achieve time and time again: I can do it in training, while working, while traveling. Anytime. The ability to create optimal performances more often is similar to training your threshold for endurance – it’s your base. The more efficient I am at “scaling” 90% of the “mountain” means I have reserved my energy to make that last push to the top when I need to.  I’m pretty happy with how my training has gone this year and I feel like I am right where I need to be going into the first races of the season. When it comes down to my Trial races this November all it will take to qualify is this last leap to the summit. 

One reason why I think I’ve been able to create optimal performances and reach peaks in my career is because I’ve put a lot in to being a balanced athlete.

I look at balance in two ways: physically and holistically. Basically, how strong is your core and how strong is your mind?

Let’s look at the physical aspect first. My standing shooting position requires inner stability to balance out the weight of the rifle and to shoot accurately. If I set myself up right, then I give myself the best chance of shooting well when under the physical stress of racing – high heart rate, competition, heavy breathing

A quick clip from combo training (rollerskiing and shooting) at the Soldier Hollow Biathlon venue during a National Team training camp in Utah this October.

One way I have created my physical ability to balance is by strengthening my inner core – my spinal musclesThis fundamental inner strength is undeniably key to all athletic movements. This strength creates balance, which prevents tensions and weaknesses in the body that can hinder your performance.


The other way I look at balance is much harder to define and more individual than the physical side. Here are 4 ways that I keep myself in balance:

Know when to be “on” and when to be “off” with particular importance to the “off” part:
It is easy to train hard, but it is hard to recover and relax, especially with busy schedules. You can’t be “race-ready” all of the time or else you’ll burn out or just go crazy. I know that in order to be fresh and ready to train and race everyday, I need some downtime to get away from the intensity of biathlon. I’ll head to Canmore, Alberta next week and one of my favorite things about Canmore is a great downtown yoga studio. When I need to get out of the hotel room and away from guns, I usually seek something like this out. But, when I can’t a couple winter knitting projects usually does the trick.

Diverse resources: 
In a given day I can work with a shooting coach, head coach, strength coach, sports psychologist, mentor, team manager and physical therapists. They all bring different views to biathlon from their unique specialties. A different voice and approach helps balance out my primary coaching support and gives me another way of looking at a problem or task. *

Simply, Know thyself.:
By knowing your self, your needs, your follies, and your strengths you can be a bit more imaginative with what you need to keep you head, heart, position and often just your day in some sense of balance. It’s a bit about efficiency. Why waste your energy trying to juggle too many things, when you can instead use it to move forward and closer to your goals? 

Knowing that I am more than just a biathlete:
I’ve been in and out of school since I left NSA, but in addition to keeping up with my education, I have always found a way to keep art and community service a part of what I do. Currently it comes in the form of visiting the LPES gym class. Don’t forget to remain connected to other interests, communities, clubs, etc. We often are so much more than we think we are. 

But ----- sometimes, no matter how hard you try, no matter what you do, no matter how good you are – your balance will falter. At the moment of a missed goal, a hooked tip, a slip on the ice, and for me, a missed target and all you can say is ‘damn it’. We all know what this feels like and there’s no hiding its momentary agony.

After a tough race or training session when I feel that all is lost, I’ve relied on my sense of balance to right me. When I am stressed or tired while racing, I can often hit only 50% of my targets that often results in additional minutes spent skiing around a penalty loop. There’s really nothing worse than having to make sure I count five loops around the penalty loop. However, these moments are humbling because they demonstrate that achieving balance isn’t easy. It’s challenging to have everything go right every time. But because balance is something that I know is key to my success I have learned a great deal more about being accountable and aware of what works for me.

In that respect, achieving a balance - reveling in equilibrium – is an optimal performance in and of its self: only steps away from your peak.
* * * * * - Thanks for letting me borrow your photo!
* Just one of my great resources.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fort Kent and Presque Isle: 2011 Biathlon World Cup Hosts

"Dedicated Organizing Committees preparing Presque Isle and Fort Kent Venues"

08.10.2010, Presque Isle  / IBU Inf. Dept. TO/JK
High level of preparations for BWC 7 and BWC 8
An IBU delegation inspected the E.ON IBU World Cups 7 and 8 venues in Presque Isle and Fort Kent, USA Tuesday through Thursday last week. Presque Isle will host its first IBU World Cup while Fort Kent has previous experience from 2004.

Read the article on

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thursday: Speaking at NSA.

On Thursday I will speak at NSA as a part of their series "The Process of Achieving Peak Performance." I've been asked to speak about the importance of balance in an athlete's life. One of the last lunchtime speakers that they had was Bill Demong '98.

"The qualities of an exceptional cook [or in our case, an exceptional athlete] are akin to those of a successful tightrope walker: an abiding passion for the task, courage to go out on a limb and an impeccable sense of balance." - Bryan Miller

Monday, October 25, 2010

Read what Billie Jean King has to say....

"Through sports our children learn about teamwork, goal setting and the pursuit of excellence. It is also how youth learn how to deal with failure and become more determined to do better the next time, not only in sports but in life."

Read the rest of her blog post on the Let's Move! website: Billie Jean King Salutes Women in Sports
Tennis legend and President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Billie Jean King, shares her experience at the Women's Sport Foundation's annual event stressing how all of these women athletes continue to mentor your people to help put them on a successful track for life.

Article about our new coach

Our new women's head coach and Lake Placid regional coach, Jonne Kahkonen, was recently interviewed by

"Getting to know Jonne Kahkonen"
By Chelsea Little 10.25.10
Jonne Kahkonen was hired by the United States Biathlon Association this summer to be the new women’s head coach. Kahkonen, who hails from Finland, just finished a four-year stint as head coach of the biathlon program. Finland’s top performances last season came from Kaisa Makarainen, who finished the year ranked 22nd in the overall World Cup Standings.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

" good can you be?"

Floating down the Snake River with a good view of the Tetons. 

USBA just held its 30th Anniversary Celebration in Jackson Hole, WY. Not only was it the location for the Board of Director's Annual Meeting, it was also host to a Gala dinner, annual awards, Snake river float trips and fly fishing, skeet shooting and a grand gathering of influential people within the US Biathlon family.  Olympians from the 1960's until 2010, retired biathletes and officials, memorable staff members, current National Team members and our Olympic staff spanned the history of biathlon in the US over the past 50 years. It was not until some of these people were recognized that I realized why we had all traveled to Jackson - the Snake River valley is filled with former biathletes. This event was unlike any I have attended before and I appreciated the time that was taken to recognize this amazing community that has been created through a small sport in the US. 

Max, our CEO and President, speaking at the Gala dinner.

While this anniversary celebration folded the likes of past Olympians back into the current, time was also taken to acknowledge the newest members of USBA - the newly formed US Biathlon Foundation. An incredible league of distinguished business leaders make up this strong financial team that will help support current and future USBA programs. With short notice, I had the opportunity to address this impressive crowd during one of our dinners. Even though I nailed the short-order speech, I actually don't remember what I said (not far off from the in-the-moment feel of a race, actually) except that I enjoyed welcoming this new team to USBA and hope that it is a mutually beneficial connection. We are all striving for peak performance - be it on the range or in the board room - and I am pretty excited about the potential synergy created.

During one of our dinner table conversations I made a mental note of a comment from one of our new Foundation members who made an observation of a distinguishable quality: when people pursue something to its fullest potential. How good can you be? Its a risk, its a leap from average, and honestly it is one way to define many of us in that room that night because it is one reason why we were all there in the first place. 

After a good camp in Utah and with sights set on the final weeks of dryland training before heading to snow and qualifying races in Canmore, Canada it was nice to spend a few very relaxing hours watching Bald Eagles and floating down the Snake River:

Lake Placid Ski Club Sign Up and Ski Sale

When: October 30th, Saturday
10am till 1pm
Where: St. Agnes School, Lake Placid

Sign up for - After school ski program at Whiteface, NYSEF nordic, alpine, snowboarding, alpine, jumping and biathlon programs, and the Bill Koch nordic ski program
Meet - local Olympians Pete Frenette, ski jumping, and my self
Buy and sell - used ski equipment

For further information and details:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Utah Camp photos - UPDATED!

After a chilly and rainy rollerski this morning in Placid I look fondly back at the ideal training climate that we had in Utah. Just checked NOAA and we're in for more snow and rain.

Our annual fall camp in Soldier Hollow, Utah was productive and fun. We kept the focus and quality high during training to return home a bit more fine tuned and ready for the race season ahead. Training at a higher altitude is interesting, but the older and fitter I get the easier it is for me to adjust. This is my 5th fall in Utah and every time I gain a better understanding of how I am affected by altitude. I paid particular attention to this this year because it added an interesting element to training analysis and it will give me insight into the two weeks I will spend in Canmore, Canada later in November. I am super psyched about starting the year off in Canmore and look forward to the qualifying trials that will fill up the rest of our World Teams for December. With important races coming up ahead at higher elevations, Utah proved to be a good test. 

Check out a recent article on - Biathletes Make Most of Altitude at Soldier Hollow 
to get some insight from other teammates, coaches and photos. 

On our way back down from ski walking intervals up Park City Resort.

A good portion of our national team is on Rossignol equipment and I think this is my 13th year, (well 15 or 16 if you count my alpine years) skiing on Rossi. Each year during our October Camp we head up to the Mountain Center in Park City to meet with our Rep. Robert, take some photos, check out the offices, meet the staff and learn about the new equipment. 

Instead of just a quick hello while passing their cubicle, this year the Rossi staff got to try out our SCAT laser shooting system. 

Rossignol's conference room is also a hall of history with a variety of legendary rooster tipped Rossi models. I liked this pair - Mt. Olympique.

After our final interval/time trial session to looped out recovery jog around the rollerski trails to cheer on the Canadian National Team's classic sprint session. Most days we have Soldier Hollow to ourselves, but on a few occasions its been packed with the US Ski Team, Canadian National Team and APU ski team. Often on a very separate schedule for the US Nordic team (they were in Placid while we were in Utah, for example) its a treat when our training overlaps. Plus, it was pretty neat to watch the speed of such skiers as Devon Kerhsaw, Chandra Crawford and Kikkan Randall. Best of luck to all of them this season! 

BethAnn Chamberlain, Tracy and Lanny Barnes, Annelies Cook and I on a run at Soldier Hollow.

Looking down range at Soldier Hollow. 

Chandra Crawford, Olympic Gold Medalist and Fast and Female founder, during the classic sprints. 

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Demong Supports Hometown Trails"

SARANAC LAKE, NY (Oct. 5) – There are two significant road signs along the winding highway leading from Lake Champlain to the Adirondack Mountains.
The first is stark green and marks Fletcher Farm road in Vermontville, population 853. It reads “Home of Billy Demong, Olympic gold and silver champion.” Roughly 10 miles later is another welcoming travelers to Saranac Lake. This one plainly states “Home of the 1996 State Champion Cross Country Team.”
Demong referenced the second when addressing a group of hundreds Monday at the village owned Dewey Mountain Ski Center, half were piled into a blue and white tent, the others spilling across the lawn. Waist high children made loops of the tent and adjacent playground as proud parents looked on. His mother Helen and father Leo among them. It was there that Demong and fellow biathlon Olympians Tim Burke trained for that 1996 Saranac Lake High School title.
Finish the article here.

a day away from the range

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Uihlein Ironman Sports Fund Athlete Grant

One way to go from here... here... through locally supported ski programs.

I thankfully have been through a couple of those types of programs through the years and I'd like to take note of the philanthropic arms of region that have supported both those programs and their athletes along the way.

The Uihlein Ironman Sports Fund Athlete Grant Reception is held today for its 2010 recipients at Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid. I am unable to attend while training here in Utah, but would like to extend my thanks to Uihlein Ironman Sports Fund Grant committee and the Adirondack Community Trust for their continued support.

The Grant's mission:
  • Provide financial support for competitive, local, young athletes with regional, national and international promise in traditional winter and summer sports. 
  • Provide general program support to local nonprofit organizations that expose area youth to traditional summer and winter sports.
This type of support is representative of the belief in the value of local athletes and the benefit of sport, both for the individual or non-profit group, as well as the community and Olympic region as a whole

My athletic career has evolved right along with this Grant, and I appreciate that it has grown with me and helped me meet my financial needs as a full-time biathlete. Its benefits are mutual however. Over the years it has also placed the responsibility in my hands for giving back to the community that has helped me along the way. Thus it has been both the  motivator and enabler of such projects. This is my 6th year receiving this local athlete grant and I am psyched to put in another year of visiting classrooms, skiing with youth programs and promoting the benefits of skiing in the Lake Placid region.

Thanks UISF and ACT!

Friday, October 1, 2010

USOC's Beyond Sport Summit

"We all believe sport can bring youth away from and into very important things, away from crime, away from violence, and into academics, into sport, into character development," Pat Ryan, the head of the Chicago 2016 bid and chairman of World Sport Chicago, said in his address.

I came across this article on, "Aiming to affect great, lasting social change" and the above quote to well express the power to of the Olympic movement that can happen on a daily, individual and community level. 

With that said, the Lake Placid Ski Club sign up is Saturday October 30th from 10 till 2 at the at the St. Agnes School in Lake Placid. See you there!