Ready, aim, fire: P.E.I. cadets, Atlantic athletes compete in biathlon

Mitch MacDonald
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Learning how to fire a rifle was a lot less intimidating, and a lot more fun, than biathlete Ava Washington was expecting.

The P.E.I. cadet was one of many athletes firing on all cylinders during the weekend as the sounds of snow crunching under skies and pings of targets being hit filled the air at the Brookvale Nordic Centre.

Now in her second year, Washington said she would recommend the sport, which requires lengthy cross-country skiing and precise target shooting, to anyone.

"Even if you don't get first place it's still a really fun experience," said the 14-year-old member of 327 Southern Kings Air Cadet Squadron. "If you get your rifle sighted properly, you can do really well. I think a lot of people who think they're not interested in (target shooting) would really like it. I thought I wouldn't, but it's actually really fun."

The centre was a hub of activity during the weekend with the P.E.I. cadets competing for the provincial championship while Biathlon P.E.I. also hosted the Atlantic Cup 2 at the site.

Scott Nixon, the regional cadet common training officer responsible for marksmanship and biathlon programs in Atlantic Canada, said the sport is a perfect mesh for the cadets' training programs.

That's no surprise, given the sport's origins.

"It is a military sport, that's where it evolved from and eventually through the years it became an Olympic sport," said Nixon.

The sport also emphasizes shared values with cadet programs, including physical fitness, co-ordination and leadership.

"You have to be fit enough to ski 10 kilometres and it also takes a great bit of skill to, after those 10 kilometres, grab a rifle and hit a target," he said. "Then there's the leadership. We have two-person teams and there's a lot of coaching going on, so there are lots of moving parts." 

Apart from competing cadets, the weekend saw more than a dozen volunteers and a number of other cadets coaching and helping run the event.

"We've introduced that element to give the cadets who aren't as competitive a chance to still contribute," said Nixon.

Capt. Shawn MacDonald said participation inthe biathlon program has been picking back up since a recent decline.

"It just seemed like it was starting to fizz out a bit," said MacDonald, who noted the improvements many new athletes have made in a short period of time. "We started off with a lot of cadets last year that didn't know how to ski and they've come a long way."

Last weekend saw 18 cadets compete for a place in the National Cadet Biathlon Championships being held in Quebec City next month.

Ultimately, 10 of the P.E.I. athletes will compete.

While Washington finished strong enough to compete nationally, she'll miss the competition due to an already booked vacation.

However, just competing in the sport locally was a prize in itself.

"It's kind of sad," she said. "But it's still awesome. If  anyone was thinking they wanted to try the sport, definitely try it out, it's really fun."

Organizations: Brookvale Nordic Centre, Atlantic Cup 2

Geographic location: Washington, Atlantic Canada, Quebec City

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