Pulaski’s Irwin heading to Beijing Winter Olympics
By Rich Palzewic
PULASKI – Deedra Irwin’s Olympic dream has come true.
Irwin, a 2010 Pulaski High School graduate, recently earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic Biathlon Team.
Biathlon is a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting.
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics are Feb. 4-20.
“Right now, it doesn’t seem real, but it’s exciting,” Irwin said via phone from Germany. “Lots of people – including me – have sacrificed lots for me to be an athlete living this lifestyle for so many years. It feels good to have this accomplishment. It’s not a me thing – it’s a community thing. Lots of people have reached out over the last few days.”
The 29-year-old Irwin finished 36th last month in Austria in an International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup race and 15th last weekend at an IBU Cup event in Slovakia.
Irwin, who skied for the Ashwaubenon Nordic Ski Team during her high school days, said she’s skied in about 30 IBU World Cup races during her career, going against the top women in the world.
“Skiing on the World Cup circuit last year – and knowing I could do that again this season – put a fire in me last summer to focus and be a good asset to the team, especially in the relay,” she said. “I’m the least-experienced one on the team, but I want to help us get on the podium.”
During the World Cup trials for her team in October, Irwin won the mass-start race.
“I had to qualify for the World Cup team again, but everything came together for me during the race,” she said. “It was after that moment I thought the Olympics were a possibility, and I could be an asset to the team. I’m still the slowest skier on our team, but my shooting has gotten lots better.”
For the upcoming Olympics, Irwin said she’s going to do her best to help her team.
“I’ve loved the women’s relay,” she said. “As an individual (skier), I realize my potential is not in the top three in the world – unless something crazy happens. I want to do well in the individual races, but I’d love a chance to compete in the relay event.”
Each of the four women on the relay team will ski six kilometers and shoot twice.
“You ski two kilometers, shoot prone (lying down), ski two kilometers, shoot standing, ski two kilometers and then hand off,” Irwin said.
Irwin still has a few races before beginning her final preparation for the Olympics.
“We have two more weekends of World Cup racing in Germany and Italy,” she said. “I’ll do a pre-Olympic training camp at altitude before heading to Beijing.”
After a short break, Irwin will complete the third trimester of the World Cup.
“I probably won’t get back to Pulaski until April,” she laughed. “After Europe, we have the U.S. Nationals in Lake Placid, N.Y., which I’m not sure if I’ll do yet, and then I have a couple of sponsor commitments to get done. Hopefully, in April, I can disappear for a bit in Pulaski.”
One of the challenges of biathlon is skiing all-out and then lowering your heart rate enough to shoot at targets.
In past events, Irwin said she skied well enough to place in the top 10 but missed a few targets and finished in the 40s.
“I worked lots on my positioning last summer,” she said. “I don’t know which part worked, but something worked. I’ve been more consistent in my shooting. In many races since, I’ve shot 90% or better, which is a huge jump from last year. Something clicked – I did lots of work with my coaches.”
After leaving Pulaski in 2010, 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 during 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 camp.