Norman Wells sending its 1st biathlon club to Arctic Winter Games trials

Just two months ago, the community of Norman Wells didn't have a biathlon club. After fundraising and community support, their newly-minted team is headed to the Arctic Winter Games trials with high hopes.

The 3-member team was founded just 6 weeks ago, and it's ready for territorial trials

From left to right, Autumn Gilroy, Tamara Chisholm, and Sommer Wiley are the three members of the brand new Norman Wells biathlon club. (Submitted by Loretta Wiley)

Three teens from Norman Wells, N.W.T., are a week away from heading to the Arctic Winter Games trials in Hay River, hoping to represent their territory at the 2020 games in biathlon.

However, just to get there, they — with the help of families and the community — may have won an even more impressive race.

Autumn Gilroy, Tamara Chisholm, and Sommer Wiley are the first three members of community's first-ever biathlon club.

In late October, the teens came up with the idea of starting a team for the trials, says Wiley, leaving them with less than six weeks to come up with equipment and uniforms, all while maintaining a rigorous training schedule.

"It just started with fundraising," said Wiley, who said that the mothers of the three girls were instrumental in the efforts. "Coming up with people on the team, and here we are now."

'It's insane ... It's like –40 C outside,' Chisholm says about training in the elements. (Submitted by Loretta Wiley)

Those efforts were never-ceasing, according to Wiley's mother, Loretta Wiley. The group of moms organized regular fundraisers at the community's Legion and held bake sales, among other efforts. 

Help surged in from around the community and region. The school in Colville Lake donated guns for the team and snowshoes for Gilroy — a snowshoe biathlete — while local business HRN Contracting pitched in for uniforms. Supplies were donated from the local Northern Store and Rampart Rentals. Eventually, Wiley and Chisholm raised enough money to buy new sets of skis.

With that, in just a few short weeks, a new club was born.

"Honestly, I was really surprised," said Chisholm. "I'm part of other sports teams ... and it takes us all year to fundraise to just go to Yellowknife ... The fact that we're able to do this is just kind of crazy to me.

"We just want to thank everyone in Norman Wells that's helped us. We owe it to them."

'I think all of us have a great chance and opportunity to make the team,' says Sommer Wiley. (Submitted by Loretta Wiley)

Training in -40 C on old runway

All three teenagers are not newcomers to biathlon, having been introduced to the sport through the cadet program and participating in a yearly tournament in Whitehorse. In the past, the team says, participants from Norman Wells have placed well enough in that competition to travel to cadet national championships — something they cite as inspiration.

In addition to gym training, the trio train outdoors at the community's North-Wright airfield.

"It's basically an old runway for bush planes that they don't use anymore," said Gilroy.

The open space allows plenty of room for skiing and snowshoeing, but also offers little protection from the elements, something Chisholm says the team has worked to their benefit.

We just want to thank everyone in Norman Wells that's helped us. We owe it to them.- Tamara Chisholm

"You need to train outdoors ... Even just breathing outside is a lot more different because the air is cold, you're cold, everything's cold," she said. "It's insane ... It's like –40 C outside," said Chisholm.

"So training in those different levels ... It's been a great opportunity for us to learn and improve."

The club will continue past the Arctic Winter Games trials — a trainer will come to the community in January to work with both prospective athletes and coaches, says mom Loretta Wiley. But for the club's three current members, Hay River will be their first test next week. That's something the trio seems confident in.

"I think all of us have a great chance and opportunity to make the team," said Sommer Wiley. "And if not, we've at least tried and worked so hard — and that's all that matters."

The 2019 Team N.W.T. Arctic Winter Games biathlon trials take place in Hay River from Dec. 12 to 14.

Written by Garrett Hinchey, based on an interview by Peter Sheldon


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