FORT KENT, Maine — It’s not often youngsters get the chance to meet their sports idols, much less get some one-on-one training tips, but for a group of young southern Maine biathletes, everything fell into place this weekend.
The contingent of 30 8- to 15-year-old students and their parents from the Southern Maine Biathlon Club were in Fort Kent this weekend to watch the U.S. National Biathlon Championships and North American Biathlon Cup races and take part in a citizens’ race Saturday afternoon.
As part of that race, biathletes took time off from their training schedules to give their fans some pointers.
“It’s so awesome to see these kids,” Tracy Barnes-Colliander said. “These kids were in the same situation Lanny and I were in when we started — we had a club but” no shooting range.
Barnes-Colliander and her twin sister, Lanny Barnes, natives of Durango, Colo., trained and lived in Fort Kent in the years leading up to their 2006 Winter Olympic U.S. Biathlon Team appearance.
On Sunday Barnes-Colliander captured the gold medal in the women’s mass start race and took gold on Saturday for the women’s pursuit.
Her sister won the silver on Saturday, but a reoccurring foot injury kept her out of Sunday’s race.
The two, along with BethAnn Chamberlain of Caribou, seemed more than happy to spend time Sunday afternoon with the students talking about everything from the future of their sport to high school soccer.
“It’s so cool to see these young people here,” Chamberlain said. “They are the ones who will grow into the new generation of biathletes.”
The day before a for-fun club and citizens’ biathlon race after official competition at the 10th Mountain Center drew close to 70 participants and several of the athletes stuck around to work with the youngsters on marksmanship and ski skills.
Among them was Grace Boutot of Fort Kent who had some special fans in the crowd and on the practice range.
“This is really so exciting to see so many kids here from all over Maine,” Boutot said Saturday afternoon. “Some of them are really good shots.”
Boutot, just off a gold medal win for the youth women’s pursuit, was working with her nephews Austin, 6, and Ethan, 4, on the range.
“I never did this before,” Austin said after taking his turn with the designated air rifle. “Grace was helping me and with her here I was more brave.”
Austin and Ethan were in the stands along with their mother, Jessica Thibeault, Grace’s older sister, cheering her along the course earlier that day.
“I think she is just awesome,” Thibeault said. “She’s got such focus and dedication.”
Tiki Humphries, a coach and personal trainer from North Yarmouth, was with the southern Maine club and said the weekend was all she had hoped it would be.
“It was all about watching the competition, learning and taking it all in,” Humphries said. “We want the kids to know they can do this.”
The southern Maine club is affiliated with the Maine Winter Sports Center and Humphries said that relationship has allowed her skiers to experience biathlon up close.
“The kids really look up to these athletes,” Humphries said. “It just means the world to them that the athletes would take the time to come and talk to them.”
Such one-on-one interaction, Humphries said, makes the sport more attainable.
“Now our kids can go home and say they know these athletes,” she said. “They can watch the events and it’s very real to them now and they can believe they can do it, too.”
Gary Colliander, coach with MWSC, agreed, saying events such as the citizens’ fun race are a great place to get people of all ages fired up about the sport.
“It was unbelievable seeing all the participants,” he said. “It’s just what we had hoped for. Biathlon has a great future here.”