Living

Young athletes take to bikes, shooting range to learn about biathlon

FORT KENT, MaineCody Johnson of Fort Kent and Russell Currier of Stockholm are among several local athletes who have trained at one time or another at Fort Kent’s winter sports facility and subsequently found spots on U.S. ski and biathlon teams.

It is no surprise then that the next generation of potential winter sports stars took part in a four-day shooting camp, July 17-20, at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center, hosted by the organization’s Jalbert Youth Program.

Biathlon is known for its challenging combination of cardiovascularly demanding cross country skiing and precision shooting. Children at this year’s summer shooting camp took to their bicycles, rather than skis, to do laps before returning to the shooting range inside the FKOC stadium.

“I started last year,” said Caleb Lavertu, 11, who also enjoys cross country skiing. “Shooting is my favorite part.”

Shooting, and not skiing, was the focus of the recent program, which had more than 20 participants spending four early evenings learning about the sport of biathlon and shooting range safety.

Carl Theriault, one of the instructors and a strong supporter of winter sports, said summer programs are good for younger participants, as winter weather can sometimes be too cold for extended outdoor instruction.

“This week we wanted to get the kids used to the firearms and using them safely,” Theriault said. “We may get some interested in future biathlon.”

“I think it’s cool kids get to try out what adults get to do,” said 10-year-old Rowan Tanguay, who also enjoys running and downhill skiing.

During the shooting camp, children were instructed on how to use a bow and arrows, paintball guns, air rifles and .22 caliber rifles to hit targets downrange. Even with its emphasis on safety, the program included some fun competition, which gave participants a taste of what biathlon is like.

For Matt Michaud, another of the volunteer instructors at the shooting camp, helping at the center brought back fond memories.

“I did biathlon back in 2002, when this place was just being built,” Michaud said Wednesday. “I remember laying here in shale and dirt, shooting at targets.”

Now, instead of bare earth, the shooting range and stadium paths are paved and special rubber mats are brought out for shooters to lay on.

Michaud, now a physical therapist in Fort Kent and avid skier and cyclist, said he tries to volunteer each year at various Jalbert programs.

Today, the facility regularly hosts regional, national and even World Cup nordic and biathlon events, on a course that challenges skiers and at a venue that offers spectators a great opportunity to watch the competition.

Taking part in these camps gives children exposure to a sport, “which is pretty much in their backyard,” Michaud commented.

“It’s fun,” said Collin Harvey, 7, one of the younger participants at the camp.

“I like shooting,” said Harvey’s friend, Reed Michaud, also 7.

“I really like biking and I really like shooting, so this is cool,” Brody Anderson, 10, said Wednesday. “Sometimes I go shooting with my dad.”

The program also teaches the young athletes how to be supportive of one another and offers them a chance to spend time outdoors. Some of the participants at this week’s camp take part in similar winter programs, while others may downhill ski or play school sports. For others, it was the first time they have spent time on the local trails.

“It’s a good opportunity for them to learn something about biathlon and learn how to shoot,” said Monique Michaud-Lavertu of Fort Kent, whose two boys took part in the camp.”

“I think it’s great they get to try so many sports. The bow and arrow, air rifles and paint guns,” said her husband Mike Lavertu, who is a volunteer coach for the popular Valley Racing Team youth alpine ski program based in Fort Kent.

Theriault, who also is the head coach of Fort Kent’s high school Nordic team, said he hopes to put on another shooting camp this fall. The fee for this summer’s camp was $30, which covered the cost of ammunition and maintenance of the rifles and bows.

Additional information about the Jalbert Youth Program may be found at http://10thmtskiclub.org/jalbert-youth-peewee-programs/.

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