FORT KENT, Maine — She might not be set to retire, but after spending all of her teen years competing on the national and international biathlon circuit, Grace Boutot is ready for some time off.
Boutot is back in Fort Kent, fresh off an appearance at the European Championships in Ridnaun, Italy, where the 20-year-old athlete competed for the final time at the junior level, coming in at 22nd place in the individual event and 34th in the sprint race.
“I did have some higher expectations,” Boutot said over coffee and lunch at Custom Cake Cafe in Fort Kent last week. “But it was a good finish for me, it was a tough season and this was a good end to the season.”
The races marked the first time a race had taken Boutot to Italy and she said she was blown away by the region’s beauty.
“We were about two hours south of Innsbruck, Austria,” Boutot said. “We didn’t get to do much sight seeing but the venue was just beautiful.”
Competition might have been tough for Boutot this past year, but that did not stop her from earning first place at the 2010 junior sprint and pursuit at the US Nationals, winning the North American Cup or from being named the top junior biathlon shooter in the country by the United States Biathlon Association.
Boutot said that last honor, while coming in what has been her best shooting year ever, was still a bit of a surprise.
“Last spring I trained at the (US) National Team training camp in Lake Placid and took a shooting test,” she said. “We shot 300 rounds — 150 standing and 150 prone — and I ended up beating all but one shooter on the national team. That was really fun.”
Boutot speculated that performance helped secure the top shooting honor.
In 2009 the Fort Kent resident placed first in sprint at the North American Championships; won the North American Cup, and took first place in the youth pursuit and mass start at the US Nationals.
When the 2010-11 season began Boutot had hopes of earning a spot on the US World Cup team and a chance to compete in her hometown when the World Cup biathlon came to Fort Kent in February.
“That was my goal, but it did not happen,” she said. “Now I’m really contemplating taking a year off, I’ve been competing in biathlon since I was 13-years-old.”
Boutot is not sure what the coming year could hold, but after close to seven years of training and competing in biathlon, she’s ready to find out.
“For a very long time I’ve dedicated my life to biathlon,” she said. “It’s important to me to find out what’s out there outside of biathlon and figure out what I want to do and I know taking a year off would be beneficial.”
However, that does not mean she is leaving the sport for good.
“The 2014 Winter Olympics remains one of my goals,” she said.
Though biathlon certainly dominated her teen years, Boutot said she has no regrets.
“I made those choices to train and not stay out late and go to parties,” she said. “I made the choice to be home schooled my entire high school career and I might have missed out on some things but I was also able to travel and experience things a lot of people my age have not.”
That traveling meant Boutot was in Europe competing and not in northern Maine when World Cup biathlon came to Aroostook County in back-to-back events in Presque Isle and Fort Kent.
That did not mean she missed any of it, however.
“We literally walked into any restaurant and they had little flat screen TVs showing Presque Isle or Fort Kent and World Cup,” she said. “They pretty much watch it with the same enthusiasm we watch football in this country.”
Now that she’s done competing for now, Boutot is seriously considering turning her talents to training others and would love to work with the area’s youth.
“I’d really like to start some form of local youth program to help them be more active and healthy,” she said. “I’d like to do the programming during the school vacations.”
Boutot recalls growing up in Fort Kent and her desire to spend as much time as possible outside and on the go.
“The programs I’d like to do would not be centered just around skiing,” she said. “It would be more about just being active and having fun.”
She’s already garnered some sponsorship toward that goal after signing on with Honey Stinger, makers of natural energy gels, bars and snacks.
Boutot said the sponsorship provides a bit of stability in what will be, for her, an unchartered year.
“This is going to be the first time in years I literally have no plans,” she said. “It’s really kind of frightening.”
At the same time, Boutot said she is excited when she thinks about turning her attention toward college or pursuing mountain biking.
She also has an impressive history on which to look back.
“I remember my first big race when I passed women who beat me when I was younger,” Boutot said. “I can really see how far I’ve come.”