The Casper Mountain Biathlon Club said that five athletes with disabilities began training with some of the club’s coaches on Wednesday, March 20 to participate in this weekend’s Cowboy State Games. The club also brought elementary students to the mountain this week.
The club’s Managaing Director Cathy Nyrkkanen Rosser said that grant funding from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs allows the club to offer training camps to disabled veterans at no cost.
She added that veterans from across the country are able to participate and have their travel costs covered as well. Rosser said the athletes currently training come from California, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Casper.
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She said the athletes have different disabilities such as spinal cord injuries or amputations so they have different ways of skiing. She added that they offer five training camps throughout the year.
Rosser said the athletes spent Wednesday afternoon and the full day Thursday training. They’ll also be training on Friday.
The athletes will participate in the Cowboy State Games on Saturday and Sunday, competing in the “Adaptive” biathlon category.
Rosser said the category makes adjustments based on certain specific styles the athletes use. She said that visually impaired athletes, for example, use infrared rifles, while other athletes with disabilities use air-soft rifles. Therefore, there are rules in place to adjust the scoring in the adaptive category.
Rosser added that the races will start at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and that the athletes with disabilities will start alongside the other athletes participating.
Rosser added that the biathlon club tries to find coaches who were themselves veterans for the camps.
Head Coach Rob Rosser served 21 years in the army and was an Olympian in the biathlon in 1998. Olympic coach Andy Liebner, a veteran based out of Michigan who coaches Mexico and Peru’s biathletes, also helps with the training.
Other coaches include veteran Kevin Bittenbender and Russ Myer.
In addition to working with the veterans, Rosser said the biathlon club also invites Natrona County School District fourth and fifth graders to the mountain.
She said that between 500 and 600 students will have come to the mountain to ski and practice with the infrared rifles, which are electronic and use no bullets, between January and April.
She said that 125 students have been on the mountain this week alone, with more schools scheduled to come up in April. Manor Heights students will come on April 1, Evansville students on April 2 and 3 and Oregon Trail students on April 8 and 9, Rosser said.
“We have them all the time,” Rosser said.
She explained that Head Coach Rob Rosser gives the students ski and biathlon shooting lessons, instructing them on things like gun safety. Rosser added that the biathlon club organizes ski games for the students during their time on the mountain.
She added that a Nordic Rocks grant allowed the biathlon club to purchase skiing equipment for 60 students.
Rosser said that offering the training to both veterans and students is something the biathlon club is really proud of.
The Cowboy State Games is hosting Nordic Sprint Skiing and Winter Biathlon competitions March 23 and 24 at the Casper Mountain Nordic Trails and the Casper Biathlon Center.
The biathlon club will also be hosting a free biathlon “Try it Clinic” over the weekend, according to the Cowboy State Games website.