Photo courtesy of Ariana Woods Liberty Bell’s Claire Waichler proudly represented the United States at the World Junior Biathlon Championships in Romania.

Photo courtesy of Ariana Woods

Liberty Bell’s Claire Waichler proudly represented the United States at the World Junior Biathlon Championships in Romania.

Claire Waichler’s training pays off with trip to Romania

By Don Nelson

On Thursday (Feb. 4), Liberty Bell High School senior Claire Waichler returned from Romania, where she was part of the U.S. Team competing in the World Junior Biathlon Championships.

On Sunday morning, she was at Mazama practicing with the Methow Valley Nordic Team, for which she competes as a skier — without her .22-caliber biathlon rifle.

Somehow she also finds time to do homework and take part in other activities such as Poetry Out Loud.

“Time management,” Waichler said in an interview after returning to the Methow last week. “Sometimes I have to prioritize. I like being busy.”

And, she said, “it’s all fun.”

A lot of work goes into that fun. Untold miles of skiing and hundreds of practice shots paid off for Waichler when she was named to the 14-person U.S. team — eight men and six women — to represent the United States in Romania, where 37 nations competed. It was her first international competition.

Waichler said she had met her teammates before but got to know them better on the trip, which took them to a resort area in the Carpathian Mountains about two-and-a-half hours from Bucharest.

Good outcome

In her first two races, Waichler said, “I lost my shooting” — meaning that she hit just 50 percent of her shots while finishing 67th and then 58th out of 90 women competitors. “My skiing was good,” she said. “It was competitive for the course.”

It was good enough to qualify her for the pursuit event, where her shooting improved — hitting 17 or 20 targets — and she was the 13th-fastest skier. She finished 33rd overall out of 60 competitors. Waichler said she had hoped to finish in the top 40 in the pursuit.

“It was more than I had hoped for,” she said.

Biathlon is a hugely popular televised sport in Europe, Waichler said, so the Romanian competition got a lot of attention.

Waichler said she enjoyed socializing with athletes from all over the world — they all stayed at the same hotel, she said. Some teams were very serious, Waichler said, and others were less so.

Waichler said she got to keep the flashy orange-and-purple team uniforms supplied by Adidas. “We kind of looked like traffic cones,” she said.

There were some unusual things to deal with. “Traveling with a rifle internationally is kind of a pain,” she said.

Still on her schedule this year are the junior national Nordic championships, and the biathlon nationals in March. A trip to Sweden in April is possible. There are relatively few biathlon competition opportunities in the United States compared to Europe, she said.

Future undecided

Waichler said she appreciates the support from valley residents. Her parents were answering questions about her every day while she was in Romania, she said.

Waichler’s interest in biathlon began when she was in fifth grade. Her father and brother were both biathlon competitors, so it seemed natural to pick up the target rifle. It turned out that she really enjoyed the combination of challenges.

Biathlon strategy is deceptively simple, she said. “When you’re skiing, work the course and be fast,” Waichler said. When shooting, she said, “slow your heartbeat down and stay focused … you want your emotions to be automatic.”

Waichler frequently travels with the Methow Valley Nordic and biathlon teams during the school year. As for her studies, “I try go get as much done as I can before I go … and then try to keep up with wi-fi.”

“I have very little free time,” she said. “It’s training, eating, skiing.”

Waichler said she’s not sure whether she will continue to compete as much, or at all, after she graduates from Liberty Bell in June, or go to college. There are no college scholarships for biathlon, and most members of the U.S. team spend all their time training and don’t attend college.

“I’m undecided,” she said. But the European trip “made me wonder even more about what I want to do next year.” Although she is headed for Colby College in Maine where she will compete in Nordic skiing, she said it’s also possible she’ll take a year off and devote it to biathlon. Her parents are supportive either way, Waichler said.