By Steve Baskis
December 1, 2013
Time has truly flown by, I can’t believe it is almost the end of the year. 2013 has been a great year filled with amazing experiences like climbing, kayaking and most recently skiing. Over the past few weeks I have been out West skiing in Wyoming and Montana, all with the hopes of someday making the U.S. National Paralympic Biathlon Ski Team. For those of you not familiar with the sport of biathlon, biathlon is a sport that both joins cross country skiing and shooting. Typically a biathlete will ski a loop and than ski into a shooting range where 5 targets must be fired at. If you miss a target you will have to ski a penalty loop, increasing the amount of total time racing.
The sport is truly challenging. Imagine skiing up multiple steep hills and working your way along flat narrow ski trails until you reach the shooting range. Once at the shooting range you must get down and shoot 5 targets as fast and as accurate as possible, but remember you just skied up 4 hills and your lungs and heart are about to burst from your chest. Elevation gains of 4,000 ft or more and the cold dry air don’t exactly help you relax into your rifle as you work your hardest to acquire your first target. 5 targets down and you’re hopefully back out on the ski loop racing the clock and back around to fire at 5 targets all over again. The race distances can vary from 6 kilometers to 25 kilometers and you could shoot as little as 2 times or up to 5 times. Talk about a full body work out!
Some of you might be asking, “How does a blind athlete ski and SHOOT a rifle”? Well, I follow a ski guide who wears a speaker system on their back. The ski guide speaks into a microphone and this allows me to follow the individuals voice. Imagine following sound, if you hear the sound move left, then you should move left and if the sound moves right, then you should move right. The ski guide’s job is fairly simple, ski fast and make a lot of noise for the blind athlete to follow.
“So how does a blind person shoot a rifle”? Great question, a blind biathlete uses a special audio rifle system. The athlete will ski into the shooting range and get down to shoot. At the shooting position there is an audio rifle, computer module and headphones. The blind athlete will put on the headphones, reset the computer module, raise the rifle and acquire the target by sound. An infrared light beam is transmitted from the target which is recognized by the rifle. A high pitch sound guides them into dead center on the target. Acquiring the target by sound is an interesting way to shoot, since you must use your ears instead of your eyes to line up the shot. If you hit the target you will hear a positive sound, if you miss the target you will hear a negative sound. If you ask me, it is quite depressing to hear a negative sound when you miss the target. Plus, you know in the back of your mind once you are done shooting you will have to ski 1 penalty loop for every missed shot.
Well, it’s off to another ski camp, this time it will be in Breckenridge, Colorado. Look for another post in the near future.