UMPI skiers off to Italy

17 years ago

    PRESQUE ISLE, Maine – With five athletes making the United States Youth/Junior Biathlon team, Aroostook County will be very well represented as competition gets under way today, and two are new to the team but not to the sport.

Megan Toussaint of Madawaska and Brandon Ostroot of Caribou, both ski for the University of Maine at Presque Isle cross country team and both have become serious contenders on the national level and are looking for strong races in the upcoming international competition.
The team took off for Martell, Italy Thursday and practices on the course started Monday, but the two UMPI athletes expect pressure to be at a minimum compared to the team qualifying rounds.
“It was really stressful,” Ostroot said of the U.S. team qualifiers held at Mount Itasca, Minn., earlier in the month.
“It was nerve wracking,” agreed Toussaint. “I like to think that the hard, stressful part is over and now I can just kind of relax a little bit and try to have good races.”
Both Ostroot and Toussaint join the U.S. Junior team and say they were drawn to the sport thanks in part to the accessibility of venues close to their homes.
For Toussaint, the 10th Mountain Center, which has played host to World Cup events, stood only a brief 30 minute drive from her doorstep. Biathlon, a sport which combines Nordic skiing with target shooting, seemed a natural fit for the top competitor on her high school cross country ski team.
“When I was younger my dad would take me hunting and I’d shoot a BB gun, and I’d get real competitive with him,” Toussaint recalled. “I like to ski and I like to shoot and this sport combined the two.”
For Ostroot, who is originally from Minneapolis, the sport started as just another activity to fill a void.
“I basically quit hockey and was looking for something else to do,” Ostroot said. “I was looking online and found biathlon and there was a guy in Minneapolis, who was well known through the U.S. Olympic Committee. I actually started in biathlon and they taught me how to ski.”
A freshman, Ostroot made the move to northern Maine because of the program that the Maine Winter Sports Center has been developing over the last few years with venues in Presque Isle and Fort Kent. A developing relationship with UMPI is creating one of the best programs for young skiers in the country.
“This part of Maine has got the best thing going on in the country right now as far as working with the school,” Ostroot said. “It all works together.”
Toussaint adds that an understanding between athletes, professors and coaches has been the biggest help in the transition from high school skiing and academics to the balance of travel, world class competition and training and studies.
“Working with the teachers here is much easier than I would have imagined,” said the sophomore athletic training major. “When we’re out there, we’re trying to read and do homework and keep in contact with our teachers through the Internet. That requires a lot of practice too … One of the best tips I’ve picked up is writing out a schedule for the teachers and even putting [class and practice schedules] on a calendar and highlighting things.”
Both athletes admit that balancing college courses with a demanding training schedule is not easy, but staying organized and in touch keeps things manageable and shows their level of commitment, which the university is more than happy to work with.
“I think it’s a marvelous part of the culture and the community,” said UMPI President Donald Zillman of the school’s ability to cater to world-class athletes. “The fact that they’re also superb students is about as good as it can get. If you can’t get excited about that as a president, you’re probably dead.”
After hosting and seeing first-hand world championship biathlon competition, it’s certainly not lost on the community. Ostroot and Toussaint spend a considerable amount of time training on the shooting range as well as skiing and perfecting the little things.
“Biathlon is a sport where you need to understand that you’re only going to get a little better every day,” said UMPI cross country and former MWSC coach Kris Cheney Seymour. “You need to take that small step forward every day. It’s really a sport about commitment and patience and having goals that you can understand in the big picture. It’s a lot of work.”
Both athletes remain modest when talking about their own accomplishments, but their coach and president are both quick to sing their praises.
“You have the aerobic part and you’re out there cranking as hard as you can on the skiing and all of a sudden you have to go to an absolute dead stillness to be able to shoot five out of five targets every time you come into the range,” Zillman said. “That’s just an awesome transfer of two very high caliber athletic skills.”
Biathlon is also about mental preparedness, which Toussaint says has been one of her biggest challenges.
“The hardest part, I think, personally, is just trying to stay calm and do what you know how to do in the range when you know it really counts,” she said. “It matters if you do miss one shot and blocking all that out of your mind is not easy.”
Toussaint and Ostroot are joined on the U.S. Junior team by Newt Rogers of Fort Kent and Russell Currier of Stockholm. Fort Fairfield’s Hilary McNamee also made the trip to Europe as part of the youth women’s team. Aroostook County will be anxiously awaiting word on their young athletes and most agree that just having so many members of the teams infused in the local communities is a treat.
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to work with individuals of very high caliber anytime you have someone who’s able to compete on the world level in athletics,” Seymour said. “And [Megan and Brandon] are also at that level in academics and as people. They’re world-class all around.”