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When a new season approaches, either in skiing or in life, it brings varied emotions. Some people see a chance to continue on the course they have already started, building on previous momentum and success. Others recognize a chance to prove their progress. And for some, it is the beginning of a brand new journey with a vast unknown ahead. As I approached this biathlon season I felt a combination of all these emotions. After two seasons of disappointment, I look forward to a season of redemption, rising to a level I know I am capable of, and putting the past years of challenges behind me.

This year I began my season in Sjusjoen, Norway at IBU Cup #1. Racing in Sjusjoen brought lots of reasons to be excited. This was the first time that USBA has sent a group of biathletes to compete at the first IBU Cup of the season. Up until last year USBA has never sent athletes to any of the IBU Cups before Christmas. This year, after qualifying for the IBU Cup, the athletes went to USBA with the proposition to travel to Norway on our own and compete in the first IBU Cup. Most years this is the most competitive IBU Cup of the year as there are athletes from many nations competing for World Cup start rights. We saw this as a perfect opportunity to start our season and thankfully the International Competition Committee at USBA did as well.

This also meant traveling back to Norway for the first time since Project Norway, a five-week racing trip two of my teammates and I embarked on in 2018. Project Norway started when the three of us, after having our race calendar cut unexpectedly short, wanted to find a way to keep competing. During our five weeks in Norway, we learned a lot about ourselves, the culture of Norway and what it means to be a biathlete. On our trip, we adopted the motto #StartsNOW, the idea that yesterday doesn’t need to determine today, that our journey to where we are going starts now. For the past two years, we still haven’t stopped saying, “Project Norway starts NOW!”, a persistent reminder to aim towards bettering ourselves each day. To be able to travel back to Norway and embrace that motto once again and to put last season behind me, starting the new season with a clean slate, felt like the perfect way to start the year.

Even though I had struggles of my own last year, every single person traveling to Norway on the US team had reasons to seek redemption. Arguably the most compelling reasons belong to Kelsey Dickinson, fellow St. Scholastica Ski Team alumni and USBA Team Member. Two years ago Kelsey traveled to Sjusjoen alone for IBU Cup #1 to meet World Cup qualifying standards for the IBU. On that trip, she faced difficult shooting conditions and one of the most competitive fields the IBU Cup saw that season. Unfortunately, she missed the qualification standards, which in turn changed the course of her season for the worse. She worked the rest of the year to regain the confidence and form she knew she was capable of but struggled to do so. This year, Kelsey revisited the site of her disappointing races of 2017, this time with her teammates at her side and renewed confidence in her abilities as a biathlete. Strong winds and poor visibility made for challenging shooting conditions in Sjusjoen yet again on the day of the first race, but Kelsey stayed focused and raced her own race. Fast, clean prone shooting left her in the lead after the first

Kelsey Competing in Sjusjoen IBU Cup Photo Credit: Jeffery Leopold

shooting and after only two misses in standing she left the range in second place, only a few seconds off the lead. Kelsey not only made the IBU standard she missed two years earlier with ease, but finished the day in second, only six seconds from the victory.

Kelsey’s story this year inspires me because it embodies redemption and the spirit of the motto #StartsNOW. Two years ago, Kelsey experienced huge setbacks in Sjusjoen, her season derailed by disappointing races. This year, she traveled to Norway with every opportunity for redemption and left with a podium finish and the confidence she needs to have the incredible season she is capable of. Even though I never found myself on the podium at the first IBU Cup of the season, I also felt my performances in Norway were a great start to the season and give me the confidence to keep pushing forward. Even though we had limited resources at hand due to it being a fully funded athlete trip, our IBU Cup team was able to produce one of the most successful weekends of IBU Cup racing, including a personal best 15th place for me.

Though we’ve left Norway and traveled to Austria for our next races, the idea of every day being a new opportunity to better ourselves remains. So to conclude I will leave you with this question: is there something in your life God wants to redeemed? Have you come up short in the past on something you know you can accomplish? Do you regret a past choice or decision that continues to weigh on you? Because I believe that there can be freedom from our past and redemption from the things we wish we had or hadn’t done. It is for this very reason that Jesus came to remove this shame and guilt from our lives so that we could no longer live in the past, but live for the future. In John 10:10 Jesus says, "The Theif comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Here Jesus is talking about the shame and guilt we carry with us, constantly reminding us of our past and trying to become our identity. But thankfully Jesus came so that we can have hope, experience forgiveness and to gain our identity through him and to live life to the full.

Me competing in Men's 10km Sprint in Sjusjoen Photo credit: Jeffery Leopold

Teamwork makes the dream work, and thankful to have had a great team with me in Sjusjoen for the first races of the year. Photo Credit: Jeffery Leopold

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