Canadian biathlon sisterhood shines at Youth Olympic Games
Pascale Paradis, Jenna Sharrington and Naomi Walch have trained together their entire career
PRÉMANON, France — Women who shoot and ski together, stay together.
At least that's been the motto for three Canadian biathletes for most of their lives.
So when Pascale Paradis finished her first-ever Youth Olympics race, gutted by the thought of being disqualified from the women's 10km biathlon event for shooting in the wrong order, her two "biathlete sisters" were right by her side.
"For the first time ever I mixed up the prone and standing shooting, so I'll probably get disqualified," Paradis said after her race, smiling as she talked to the media.
"I'm not smiling on the inside. It hasn't sunk in yet. I'm really disappointed."
On the biggest stage in her young athletic career, Paradis was overwhelmed by her Youth Olympic moment. But before the despair could sink in, her two teammates, Jenna Sharrington and Naomi Walch, swooped in to comfort her.
"Sometimes I tend to keep to myself when I'm sad. They help me cheer up," Paradis said. "The support is so nice. We just comfort each other when we need it. It's so nice to have such a tight knit group of girls to talk to."
This tight-knit group of biathlete athletes, all 17 years old, have been together through it all – a journey that started when they were all in the young Jackrabbits ski program at the Foothills Nordic Ski Club in Calgary.
Years after first starting skiing they joined the "Girls with Guns" program, starting with learning how to shoot air rifles and working their way up to .22 rifles.
"The first time she shot that rifle her eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. She was 12," said Pascale's mother, Marlies van Dijk. She was along the course with other family and friends cheering inside the Les Tuffes Nordic Centre across the Swiss border in France on Saturday morning.
While disappointment lingered in the air following the race because of Paradis shooting out of order and expectant disqualification, it never came. Nearly an hour after the finish, official results showed Paradis in 32nd spot.
While they waited around the competition area the three laughed with one another and joked about how they can only get better from here – a lighthearted moment during a stressful time.
"It definitely makes me a bit happier that I'm not disqualified," Paradis said.
"No matter how the race went it's been an incredible experience to be here together," Walch added.
Before Paradis and Sharrington suited up in Canadian colours and started their competition they shared a moment a before strapping on their skis.
"Pascale and I before the race had a moment. We just had to let everything out. We both started crying a bit. We absorbed it all together," Sharrington said.
International debut for Canada
Paradis and Sharrington have competed for Canada at international competitions before leading up to the Youth Olympics. But for Walch, this was all new.
She was the first one to start the biathlon event Saturday for Canada, marking her international debut.
"I did not think my first international race would be at the Youth Olympics," Walch said.
For nearly 41 grueling minutes, Walch raced around the course, shooting and skiing her way to a 64th-place finish out of the 97-competitor field.
As she crossed the finish line as the crowd roared, Walch collapsed to the snow laying there for minutes after completing the race.
"I pushed as hard as I could today. It's been hard with the time change," Walch said. "It's been a long journey and it's awesome we made it all here together."
Sharrington, 17, crossed the finish line in 38 minutes and nine seconds placing her in 37th.
"It was hard out there today. The wind change made it tricky. Not my best but that's okay."
Supporting each other through it all
They all waited for each other to finish. The race start times were staggered but Paradis, Sharrington and Walch weren't going to let that get in the way of them all leaving the competition area together.
"Having them here is amazing. Words can't describe it. It's so nice to see them at the finish line," Sharrington said.
The three still have events left to compete in at the Youth Olympics. The first is out of the way. An experience they will never forget. It was something they dreamed about growing up and training back in Calgary – a dream realized together on the snow in France at the Youth Olympics.
"This is just the start for us," Paradis said.
Canadian men finish 36th, 69th and 87th
It was then time for the Canadian men to ski and shoot inside the Les Tuffes Nordic Centre.
Three biathletes from Canada were competing. Ethan Algra, 17, from Vernon, B.C. was the top Canadian finishing 36th.
Finn Berg, 17, of Calgary finished in 69th spot. And Lucas Sadesky, 16, from Calgary finished in 87th.
After the race, Sadesky was in awe of being at the Youth Olympics.
"It was an emotional moment when I started racing. I'm actually here," Sadesky said.
With his mother and cousins in the crowd, Sadesky made his international biathlon debut for Canada, grateful for the experience he feels will only help him grow.
"I had some issues with racing stress in the past so just to experience something like this is going to be huge for me moving forward."