Tag Archives: compete

Interview with Biathlete and Olympic Hopeful Clare Egan

Note:  This is part of an interview series dealing with the sport of biathlon which plays a central role in my novel Bolt Action Remedy.

Clare Egan in on the U.S. Biathlon team and is striving to compete in the 2018 Winter Games.  She can ski, shoot, and is undoubtedly tougher than 99% of us.  Her website is https://clareegan.wordpress.com/

 

Tell us a little bit about where you are in your career.  You have the 2018 Winter Olympics in your sights, correct?  You were a great athlete coming out of high school and seemed to develop a focus on cross-country skiing in 2011.  At what point did a rifle get added to the mix and why the change to biathlon?
I am relatively young in biathlon years, having learned to shoot for the first time in 2013 and started training in earnest for biathlon in 2014. But I already had a decade of cross-country experience behind me, including 3 years of post-collegiate, full-time, professional racing. I knew I could ski fast enough to be a successful biathlete, so when US Biathlon Coach Algis Shalna offered to teach me to shoot, I said yes right away. He’s a Lithuanian-born Olympic Gold medalist (USSR Biathlon Relay) who was the US National team head coach for many years before “retiring” to a smaller role as a regional development coach and recruiter. Now, at 29 years old, I’m in my peak physical shape and the 2018 Olympics are likely to be my only shot.
In preparation for this interview, I was reading your blog in hopes of finding some common ground to discuss.  I found… well, nearly nothing.  I’d almost given up on that approach until I saw some photos on your page.  So…  HOW COOL IS BLED, SLOVENIA???!!!  I had the pleasure of going there when I was working for the Secret Service and I think it may be the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited.
Bled is one of my favorite stops on the World Cup circuit. We are currently in Antholz, Italy, which is also right up there. The entire region of South Tyrol is really special.
I’m a runner.  During a distance race, I’m lucky if I can grab a cup of water and actually hit my mouth.  Biathletes are skiing and pausing to shoot with incredible accuracy.  How much of this ability is mental and how much is physical?
I was a runner before I was a skier and I continued to run competitively throughout college. Cross-country ski racing and distance running are very similar sports both mentally and physically. Shooting, on the other hand, is unlike anything I had ever done before. It is much more akin to kicking a field goal. You must develop the skill and then repeat it over and over again thousands of times so that under pressure you can repeat the same process, no matter what.
There are physical abilities that take time to master. For me, the prone position came rather easily, though not naturally– it is counter-intuitive so I owe it to my excellent coach. Why counter-intuitive? Lesson number one: Do not try to hit the target. You can’t rely on your muscles to hold perfectly still, especially in the middle of a race. So you have to align your body in such a way that when everything is relaxed you are on the target. This is called your natural point of aim. If your natural point of aim is on the bulls-eye and you do a proper trigger squeeze, then you will hit every time. The same concept applies to the standing position. For me, standing has always been a greater challenge. My “hold” simply is not that stable. Algis said, “How do you think you get better at standing with a rifle? By standing with a rifle!” I do a lot of standing with my rifle pointing at the wall.
Other than those physical abilities, there is an enormous mental aspect. Just consider one the body’s most common natural reactions to nervousness – shaking. You can’t shake and hit! Nor can you get distracted and hit. The target is too small for that. So staying calm and focused is paramount. I am in awe any time I see the race leader arrive on point 1 for his/her final stage, with “everything to lose”, and somehow they maintain their cool and hit 5 for 5. Having the right attitude makes all the difference. “I have everything to lose” does not work, because it puts you on the defensive, and can give rise to distraction and nervousness (shaking!). You have to see each shot as an opportunity rather than a penalty. The only way to hit is 100% focus on the process. There’s nothing like this in running, that’s for sure! We have an excellent sports psychologist from the US Olympic Committee.
 
As most biathlons are outside the U.S., your travel schedule must be challenging.  Any travel nightmares you’ve encountered on the way to or from competition?
Yes. Too many to name. Most recently, trying to return to Europe after Christmas break, my teammate and I were not allowed to fly because we had our firearms. OF COURSE we travel with our firearms all the time (they are checked in locked cases), and we had done all the necessary paper work. But the airline employees had no idea what they were doing and simply would not allow us to check in. We had to fly a different day on a different airline.
Another challenge which often goes overlooked is our racing schedule. Our season requires us to live in hotels, mostly in Europe, from November through the end of March. Imagine you and a handful of your coworkers sleeping, eating, and working together every day for 5 months………..
 
Also related to travel:  How do you kill time while sitting on planes or waiting around airports?  Are you a big reader?  If so, what kinds of books do you typically read?
I am not a big reader. Though I do read a lot of news every day. I enjoy staying up on worldwide current events. I am a big language-learner and I am currently working on Korean. I speak Spanish, Italian, French, German, and a little Bulgarian and Korean. I also enjoy playing music and singing duets.
 
What are your short and long-term biathlon goals?
To go to the Olympics and win the US’ first biathlon medal (we have a good shot in the mixed relay!)

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, a Thriller Award finalist which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

Former Pittsburgh narcotics detective Trevor Galloway has been hired to look into the year-old homicide of a prominent businessman who was gunned down on his estate in Central Pennsylvania. When Galloway arrives, he determines the murder could have only been committed by someone extremely skilled in two areas: Skiing and shooting. He believes the assailant should not be too difficult to identify given the great amount of skill and athleticism needed to pull off the attack. When he discovers the victim’s property is next door to a biathlon training camp, the situation becomes significantly more complicated.

Galloway makes plenty of enemies as he sifts through stories about lucrative land deals, possible drug connections, and uncovers evidence suggesting the homicide may have been elaborate suicide. As he attempts to navigate through an unfamiliar rural landscape, he does his best not to succumb to an old drug addiction, or become confused by one of his occasional hallucinations. Oh, and a Pittsburgh drug gang enforcer known as The Lithuanian—if he’s even real—is tracking Galloway and wants to take his eyes. Galloway would rather keep those.

In Bolt Action Remedy, the typically quiet streets of Washaway Township, Pennsylvania become the epicenter of a mystery involving elite athletes and old grudges. For Galloway, the problems keep piling up and somebody out there believes problems should be dealt with by employing the most permanent of remedies.

AVAILABLE NOW!

image1Cyprus Keller wants a future.
Jackson Channing has a past.
Robert Chalk has a rifle and a mission.  Kill Cyprus Keller and anyone who gets in his way.

 

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.

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Also:

In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered.  When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.

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Finalist – 2014 International Thriller Writers Awards – Best First Novel
Named one of the BEST BOOKS of 2013 by Suspense Magazine!
Top Ten Books of the Year – Authors on the Air

 And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology

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Pennywise the Clown and The Elusive Age Group Medal

I’m not a particularly good runner.  Many people assume I can run well because I write novels that include some distance running, but that logic is a bit skewed.  If being able to effectively write about performing a task was the same as actually being able to do it well, history would be full of authors with some troubling skill sets.  Fyodor Dostoevsky would have been walking around Russia murdering people with an axe (although escaping detection would not have been his strong suit), Vince Flynn would have been taking trips abroad to kill terrorists, before heading back to his quiet home in Minnesota.  And while Stephen King might normally be a hoot at birthday parties, the whole conjuring up Pennywise the clown thing would be a big downer for the kids.

clown

So while I can run further and faster than some people, I’ve always been a middle-of-the-pack guy regardless of if I was running a marathon or a 5K.  But my mediocrity didn’t stop me from fantasizing about taking home one particular prize.  While some runners have dreams about winning races and taking home prize money, I never have.  The elite runners out there shoot for endorsement deals that will help finance their pulse-racing habit, but not I.  No, no, no.  For years I pursued something less celebrated, yet nearly impossible to obtain.  My white whale was not a marathon victory.  It was the always-elusive age group medal.

You see, in most races the top three finishers in a gender-separated age group win a medal.  It’s a nice way to allow runners close to the same age and gender to compete against each other.  Several years ago, when I first got involved with the sport of distance running, I realized I would probably never have a shot at winning one of these medals for any distance longer than a 10K (6.2 miles).  Then, I trained for speed, ran a few 10K races, and decided I would probably never have a shot at winning one of these medals for any distance longer than a 5K (3.1 miles).  Then, after a few poor showings, I finished 6th in my age group at a mid-sized 5K race.  With a new dose of confidence, my brain said, “Game on!”  I had decided I was going to win a 5K age group medal.

I signed up for more races and did all I could to become a speeding bullet on the charity 5K circuit.  I lost weight, I ate better, and I bought new shoes that just HAD to make me faster.  I was invested in this pursuit.  Not only that, but I had recently turned 35 years-old, which means I was now on the younger side of the 35-39 year-old age group.  The stars were aligning… until they weren’t.

I showed up to race after race and the gods of middle-age/middle-distance running conspired against me.  Some race organizers, who must have seen that I was certain to dominate, fixed the races by allowing too many other people my age to enter.  By doing this, they intentionally lowered my odds of getting a medal.  While they didn’t technically break any rules by allowing these individuals to compete, I think it’s obvious that the fix was in.  In spite of this, I ran a series of races around Pittsburgh and repeatedly fell between 4th and 6th in the men’s 30-39 age group.  In one race, I achieved a personal record (PR) and still managed to come in 4th.  To make matters worse, I was nearly beaten across the line by a 4’10”, 12 year-old girl named Mandy.  I should have demanded she be drug tested after the race, but I let it go.

syringe

Some race organizers took a different route in plotting against me by placing large hills on the course.  Many of the hills were steep and made me tired.  I didn’t like that.  Other organizers, expanded the five-year age group categories into ridiculous ten-year spans, meaning I was now competing with all of those between the ages of 30-49.  Lunacy!  I tried to ignore their animosity toward me, but again finished just outside the top three in these races.  With all of these race organizers (who acted as if they didn’t know who I was) working against me, I decided it was time to take the show on the road.  I decided the war would be won in Cincinnati.

This time, I did my research.  The course was flat, the entry numbers low, and the age group narrow.  The weather that morning was going to be perfect and my mind was right.  I woke up early and just knew it was going to be my day.  There was no doubt in my mind that 22-25 minutes after that starting pistol fired, I was going to be one of the few age group medal winners.  I laced up my shoes, grabbed my gear, and headed out toward my destiny.

As I lined up for the start, I was determined to put on a show that the 17 roaring spectators standing in the parking lot of the Coney Island Amusement Park would remember for hours.  In the seconds before the start of the race, I put on my Full Metal Jacket war face and then I went to work.  22 minutes and 16 seconds later, I flashed across the finish line having left it all out on the course.  During that final stretch, I had actually been able to count the male runners, of varying ages, ahead of me.  There had been eight.  Only eight.  When the results were posted, I stared at the printout taped to the wall of a trailer.  Of the eight men who had been ahead of me, three were in my age group.  I had run my second best 5K time ever and finished 4th in my age group – again.  That was in dark year of 2012.

Fast forward to April 2013.  I was no longer “fast” and had all but given up my quest for the average runner’s Lost Ark.  I was promoting my new book by helping to sponsor a local 5K race north of Pittsburgh.  I decided to run the race, but I knew I wouldn’t be very fast.  For the previous week, the weather had been unseasonably warm for April, meaning the turnout for the race would likely be huge.  This meant I would end up buried in my age group, which for this race was the Grand Canyon expanse of 30-39.  Even a top ten age group finish was unlikely.

I awoke early the morning of the race and opened the blinds on a window.  My eyes widened at what lay before me.  It was snow.  Not just snow… a LOT of snow.  It looked like a freak’n spring blizzard and the white stuff was still tumbling out of the sky.  I stared in disbelief and wondered if the race would be cancelled.  After sliding my car like a bobsled to the local park where the race was to be held, I learned they were going to go through with the 5K.  However, the herd had been thinned by the unexpected snow and only a scattering of runners milled about in the minutes leading up to the designated start time.  Most of those who had entered had opted to stay in bed and let the nutcases run the race.

snow

 

The April 2013 5K course as I remember it.

 

 

 

 

I’m not a particularly good runner.  I think I mentioned that.  On that snowy day in April 2013, I still wasn’t a particularly good runner.  But, on that day I showed up and I competed.  I plodded through a 24+ minute finish and tried not to freeze while waiting for the awards to be announced.  A copy of my first novel was being awarded as a one of the prizes, and I was supposed to stick around and sign it for the winner.  Then they called my name, but not to come up and sign the book.  They called me up to accept an age group medal.  My frozen hand took the medal and I draped it over my chilled neck.  I turned to the seven or eight people who remained and I proudly sported the gleaming circle engraved with a giant “2” in the center.  That’s right.  For that one day in April, I was deemed to be Number 2 and I shoved aside the numerous bathroom jokes that flew through my mind.  I had my medal.

Throughout this journey, I learned three things:

  1. Measuring your own performance against others is often a losing battle. There are too many variables that are out of your control.  There is nothing wrong with competing against others, as long as you keep it in perspective.
  2. The way you ultimately “win” is by continuing to show up even when others may think you are crazy.
  3. Even when you think you are at your very best in a race, there is likely some 12 year-old girl who thinks you look pretty silly as you panic to beat her across the line. And you know what?  She’s probably right.

Have you ever won and age group medal?  Do you want to?

J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, and Measure Twice.  He is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.

RESOLVE has been named a finalist for Best First Novel by the International Thriller Writers organization.

RESOLVE was named one of the Best Books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine.

https://hensleybooks.wordpress.com
http://www.hensley-books.com
https://www.facebook.com/hensleybooks
https://www.goodreads.com/JJHensley
Twitter @JJHensleyauthor

THIS September!

An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.  

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