FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Sarah Beaulieu has learned that an athlete must be resilient, have a strong work ethic and a passion for working with others toward common goals — all lessons the 21-year-old experienced while growing up in the Aroostook County town of Fort Fairfield.
Beaulieu’s hard work has paid off as she celebrates the biggest milestone in her career thus far — being named to the World Junior Women’s Biathlon team, which will compete Feb. 27-March 6 in the IBU World Championships in Obertilliach, Austria.
Beaulieu will be the only biathlete from Maine to compete in the world championships. Also part of the World Junior Women’s team is Hannah Chipman, an athlete from Norwich, Vermont, currently training at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center.
“It’s very humbling. I want to do my best to represent Maine and the community I grew up in,” Beaulieu said .
Beaulieu credits the vast outdoor recreational opportunities and programs in Aroostook for introducing her to biathlon, a Nordic sport that combines cross country skiing and rifle shooting. Beaulieu began taking biathlon lessons when she was 12 years old at the Maine Winter Sports Center, which later became the Outdoor Sport Institute, now located in Millinocket.
Like many young biathlon enthusiasts, Beaulieu practiced with air rifles and gradually worked her way up to using real rifles as she got older. She began competing in local races at age 15, and eventually traveled to regional races in New England and Canada and across the United States.
She most recently placed first in junior pursuit, second in junior sprint and second in the junior mass start competitions as part of the 2019 US Biathlon National Championships in Vermont.
After graduating from high school at age 16 through a homeschool program, Beaulieu lived with other biathletes in Fort Kent while training and later moved to Truckee, California, to train at Sugar Bowl Academy, where she still trains.
“I decided that if I wanted to be successful, I had to step outside my comfort zone,” Beaulieu said, about her move to California.
Beaulieu takes part in a demanding physical fitness routine, which often involves skiing, roller skating, mountain biking and kayaking. She and her teammates put in 750 hours of training a year to prepare themselves for winter competitions.
Beaulieu said she thought of biathlon as one of many fun outdoor sports to participate in with her friends during her early years at Maine Winter Sports Center. But she came to love the intense resilience that the sport demands, and the speed and target goals she is able to set for herself with each competition.
“It’s an individual sport but it takes a team to lift each other up,” Beaulieu said. “I would not be where I am today without the family I’ve found in my teammates and coaches.”
Will Sweetser, one of Beaulieu’s coaches at Sugar Bowl, was the Maine Winter Sports Center’s competition director when Beaulieu was still practicing biathlon with air rifles. Sweetser said that Beaulieu was one of 50 students in the biathlon program, many of whom did not stick with the sport long term.
But Sweetser has noticed Beaulieu stand out among the many biathletes he has seen coming from Aroostook County towns. He praised Beaulieu’s dedication to growing as an athlete and always keeping her world championship goals in sight.
“She has learned to deal extremely well with the anxiety that comes before competition. She is much more composed and confident in her training,” Sweetser said.
Beaulieu’s mother Stephanie Fields Beaulieu of Fort Fairfield said that her daughter sacrificed many activities that are typical of a person’s teenage years, such as going to the movies or hanging out with friends, to prepare for competitions and become better at biathlon.
“It’s very rewarding to see all her hard work pay off [with making the world team],” she said. “There have been a lot of tears shed when she was just a few points shy of making the team. But then we had tears of joy when she made the team.”
With her eyes now set on the world championships, Beaulieu is more thankful than ever for the lessons of integrity and hard work she learned from her hometown and hopes to inspire other young athletes from the region who have big goals for themselves.
“No matter where you’re from, if you dream big and work hard, all that work will pay off in the end,” Beaulieu said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified where biathlete and World Junior Women’s team member Hannah Chipman is from originally. Chipman is from Norwich, Vermont, and has been training at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center.