Fort Kent teen earns spot on US Ski team, again
FORT KENT, Maine — Cody Johnson was one of more than 40 athletes from across the Unites States who competed last month at the Ethan Allen Biathlon Club in in Jericho, VT, for a spot on this year’s U.S. Biathlon team. For the second year in a row, the 19-year-old Fort Kent native made the cut.
“It felt awesome,” Johnson said during a recent training session at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center. “It wasn’t my best performance, to start off,” said Johnson, who found himself in third place following the first race.
“I knew I had to step it up in the next event,” he said. When he came in first in the second race, Johnson thought to himself, “I got this,” he said. Johnson, shot 0, 1, 2, 1, minimizing the number of penalty loops he had to ski. “I thought, they can’t not take me now.”
In the end, a third-place finish in the final event earned him a place on the Junior (19-20) team. Last year, Johnson, skied for the US Youth (17-18) team.
Although he occasionally competes in some Nordic events, Johnson said biathlon is his real love. His shooting ability enables him to be a very good, if not always a great skier, but still be very competitive.
“It doesn’t matter if you are a fast skier,” Johnson said. “You have to be a good shooter.” For each target missed, biathletes need to ski a short penalty loop, which can add up to a lot of extra energy and time spent on the course.
Shooting is also Johnson’s favorite part of the sport. Growing up hunting with his father, Steve, the athlete was already familiar with handling a rifle.
The US Biathlon Association has traditionally groomed good skiers to become good shooters.
“But, I did it the opposite way,” Johnson said.
When Johnson saw the 2004 Biathlon World Cup in Fort Kent as a spectator, it caught his attention.
“I thought it was really cool. Once I tried it, I figured out I was really good at it,” he said.
“I tried it and I never stopped.”
Today, Johnson also skis and trains as part of the Caribou-based Outdoor Sports Institute team. OSI is an outgrowth of the former Maine Winter Sports Center program. For most competitions in the U.S., Johnson skis for OSI, while at international events, he wears the US team emblem.
He started out with the Jalbert youth program in Fort Kent, at what is now the Fort Kent Outdoor Center (the former 10th Mountain Center).
Johnson and the other athletes train most intensely in the summer months, he said. During that time, Johnson will put in hours of running, roller skiing, hiking and cycling each day. During race season however, training is limited and a focus is placed on recovery during the week, and of course, target practice.
Johnson laughs when asked about his nutrition plan. “I don’t really have one,” he said. “I try to eat healthy. But, I burn so many calories, I work it all off.”
Being homeschooled by his father and mother Gail was an advantage when it came to transitioning into an athletic and training lifestyle at a young age, Johnson said. His school time at home was arranged around his training schedule, and he had to be self motivated, he said, to do well.
Today, Johnson said he has no plans for college, although that is always an option.
“I always wanted to ski. I was never pushed to go to college,” he said. “I get to travel. There’s room for college later, if I’m interested.”
While training and competing, Johnson lives with other athletes at the Jalbert House in Fort Kent, which is available to athletes in the OSI program. He also works a part-time job.
“I could live at home,” said Johnson. “But, it’s good to live with people on the same schedule and who are doing the same thing as me.”
Johnson said he is most looking forward to traveling through Europe this season. “I am so excited for the huge crowds of people watching our races,” he said.
All that travel comes at a financial cost, though, and not all of that is paid for by the US Team or OSI.
For the upcoming European biathlon events, most expenses are covered once athletes are on the ground, but Johnson still has to pay his own airfare and some extras.
“We are looking for any contributions, whether they are personal or from businesses,” he said. As an amateur athlete, Johnson cannot get paid money from any corporate sponsors, but does get some equipment donated. He also cannot collect any prize money from winning events in the U.S., although he could if he were to win overseas.
When the next Winter Olympics comes around in 2018 in South Korea, Johnson will be eligible to be on the Senior biathlon team. He must, however, earn a spot on that team.
“I will really have to push if I want to make that team,” said Johnson.
As a member of the American team Johnson is planning to race at the IBU Junior Cup in Pokljuka, Slovenia, Jan. 26-29. The IBU Junior Open European Championships will take place in Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic, Feb. 1-5. The IBU Junior World Championships will take place from Feb. 21-28, at a location to be named later.
Contrubutions to Johnson’s travel and competition expenses may be made by going to https://fundly.com/2016-17-training-year.