By Rich Palzewic
PULASKI – Deedra Irwin, a 2010 Pulaski High School graduate, was recently named to the U.S. Biathlon National Team.
Biathlon is a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.
“I was a little surprised but very happy,” said Irwin, who is currently training in the area due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “My season started a little late last year because I joined the National Guard and spent four months at Basic and Advanced Individual Training. I wasn’t able to train as much for biathlon.”
Irwin said she came back in September and worked hard for three months, but she wasn’t sure how’d she’d do going forward.
“It was amazing going to Europe,” said Irwin, who spent the season racing on the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Cup. “I finished in the top six in my first race, but I noticed my fitness faded toward the end of the season. I’m still extremely happy with how the season turned out and honored to make the A-team from the results I got.”
The IBU Cup is a step below the IBU World Cup.
Irwin said one of her main goals is to make the World Cup next season.
“I am currently ranked No. 4 on the team among women, so I don’t automatically qualify for the World Cup,” she said. “In the U.S., we have two different weekends of trial races – one in August and one in November – to see who qualifies for the World Cup/IBU Cup. I’m excited to hopefully get a more permanent position on the World Cup and gain more experience.”
With most World Cup races being overseas, Irwin said the sport of biathlon is the most popular winter sport in Europe.
“IBU Cup races are also incredibly difficult, but it’s a different atmosphere,” she said. “There are not as many fans, and it’s more relaxed. When you get to the World Cup, there can be 50,000 screaming fans. The entire course is lined with people.”
Irwin said she’s recognized by fans at different venues.
“I got a note from one of the students at Pulaski High School who said it was cool what I was doing, and they wanted to interview me,” she said. “The girl told me, ‘This younger teenage dude from France reached out and told us about you.’ You don’t realize how invested some of these fans are and how excited they are for you.”
The biathlon season usually ends in late March, but this season was stopped early because of COVID.
“The end of the season wasn’t affected too much, and we got out of Europe before it became a problem,” said Irwin, who skied for the Ashwaubenon Nordic Ski Team in high school. “We usually train easier on our own in April and take some time off. We start increasing in May. If I can’t get out east at that time, I’ll focus more on my training here.”
She said May’s training camp in Bend, Oregon, has been canceled, but as of now, camps in June and July are still scheduled.
Irwin currently competes for the Vermont Army National Guard team.
“It’s been an amazing transition for me and life-changing,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about money as much, and I have a full-time training facility in Vermont I’m able to live at.”
Irwin and the team also have plans to travel to Beijing, China, next season to ski the 2022 Olympic course.
“Like everyone else, I’d have to qualify for the Olympics, but it’s looking better than what it was for me,” said Irwin.
Irwin said she’s not currently focusing on her rifle shooting, but it can’t be overlooked.
“I’m making my stock more comfortable and working on trigger squeeze and natural point of aim,” she said. “Bay Nordic has a range at the Reforestation Camp I’m hoping to use, or sometimes they let me take a target home. My parents live in the country, and no one cares if they hear some noise.”
One of the challenges of biathlon is skiing all-out and then lowering your heart rate enough to shoot at targets, either standing or laying down.
Irwin said one time this year at a race, she had a top-10 ski time, but missed a few targets and finished in the 40s.
“I need to get more consistent with my shooting and be faster,” she said. “If you miss targets, you either have to take penalty loops or get time penalties. I don’t notice my heart rate too much anymore when I’m shooting, but you can’t wait for it to go all the way down, either. You have to slow your breathing and relax.”
After leaving Pulaski, Irwin graduated from Michigan Tech University in Houghton, where she ran cross country and track and Nordic skied all five years.
She qualified for the U23 World Ski Championships her redshirt senior year in Kazakhstan.
From there, she moved to Ketchum, Idaho, and skied professionally for the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation’s Gold Team.
She raced with them for two seasons before trying biathlon in 2017 at a Lake Placid, New York, camp.
“They take talented skiers and give them a shot – literally,” said Irwin. “I haven’t looked back from biathlon since then. I’m excited about the future. It’s been a busy three years.”