It’s rare that you get to volunteer at a sporting event that really makes you feel like there is nothing else you’d rather be doing. This weekend was that event. I had the opportunity to volunteer at the International Paralympics Committee Nordic World Cup which was held in northern Wisconsin’s Telemark Resort. Thirteen countries sent athletes to compete in this event which has not been held in the USA since 2005.
What did I do as a volunteer? One of my primary jobs was working the visually impaired biathlon competition. I know you are probably thinking – blind people with rifles??? Don’t worry, the visually impaired skiers use laser rifles and you zero in on the target based on a series of sounds. And guess what, it’s not easy. As a volunteer on the range I got to try out the laser rifles and I really couldn’t hit the target unless I closed my eyes and really concentrated on the series of tones and pitches that change as you get closer or farther away from the center of the target. Truthfully I sucked and barely could hit a target.
Of course the athletes had to hit the targets after skiing a difficult and hilly course (with a guide calling out corners, etc). They would ski into the range, the guide would direct them into their shooting area, volunteers like myself would pat the ground at the end of the rifle so they could find it, then they would put on earphones which were resting on the stock of the rifle, listen to the sounds and take their five shots. Those of us volunteering would also have on headphones so we could hear them zero in on the target as well since racers are required to try and aim. They can’t just come up fire off five shots without aiming and then just do the penalty loop although if you are a bad shot and a great skier that might be tempting.
Then when the racers skied away we would make sure the headphones and rifle were ready for the next racer into our shooting area. We would also signal to the scorers that the racer took all five required shots. The scorers would mark down any misses and then signal us that we could reset the targets. It was pretty fun being right in the middle of the action.
Then on Monday I got new jobs as the biathlon was just Friday practice followed by Saturday and Sunday races. On Monday the races were 5k/10k freestyIe races with one competition for sit skiers and one for standing skiers. In the morning I got the job of being a forerunner for the sit ski racers. It had snowed about a half inch over night so Dave and I were sent out to ski in the classic tracks which the sit skiers would be using. Basically they want people to ski in the new snow so the tracks aren’t slow for the first skiers who go out. It was eye opening as to how hard the course really was when I got to ski it myself. I would not have wanted to double pole up all the hills in the 2.5k sit ski course. I was really happy to be able to stride and not have double poling as my only option.
Luckily I had a chance in the middle of the sit ski race to take a break from my volunteer duties to watch some of the race on one of the hills. It was amazing to see how strong some of the best athletes were as I am positive they were double poling faster up the hill than I was striding it that morning. But the hills were not easy for all of the athletes especially for some of the women. I think they made it up on pure determination as the hills were not made easier for this competition. Let's be honest, it kind of brought tears to my eyes a little bit seeing their determination.
Later on Monday I got to work at the finish line as athletes were coming in to the finish line. The volunteers in this job were to be ready with a blanket, the athlete’s bag of warm up clothes and something to drink if they wanted it. It was a great opportunity to get to talk to a few of the athletes and they were incredibly grateful to all of us who came out to help make the event possible. I just wish it could have been more like the finish line of the USGP Planet Bike Cup with more photographers, more reporters and some videographers asking questions. It’s not like that with nordic skiing in this country though and even more so with Paralympics nordic skiing. However, Paralympics is just like any other sport in that the question you get when you are headed to the podium is the same one you hear many times over . . . "do I have any snot on my face I need to wipe off before I get on the podium. "