Just because the 2014 Olympics in Sochi are over doesn’t mean old man winter has closed his doors to competition.
At least that is the mindset one Wisconsin Soldier took with him to Jericho, Vt., where he is representing the Badger state in the 2014 Chief, National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships currently underway.
Spc. Gregory Lewandowski finished the 10k Sprint race – the first of four events – Sunday with an official time of 44:35.6, placing him in the top half of the pack at 31st of 72 senior men finishers.
“I’m in the top half … that’s awesome,” Lewandowski said of his first-ever championship race.
A “top-half” finisher in a field that includes four prior Olympians is quite the feat – just ask Army Staff Sgt. Sarah Lehto, NG Biathlon Program head coach, who said Lewandowski’s finish in his first event is nothing to scoff at.
“He did a great job representing Wisconsin,” Lehto said. “Although he’s a novice, finishing where he did definitely speaks to his potential and he’s someone we’ll keep an eye on.”
Those are promising words for the first-year biathlon athlete, of Blaine, Minn., who hasn’t cross-country skied since high school.
Following high school, Lewandowski enlisted into the Wisconsin Army National Guard where he serves in the Portage, Wis.-based Headquarters Company, 132nd Brigade Support Battalion, as a signal support systems specialist. He is also a full-time student at the University of Wisconsin ñ Madison where he studies dairy science and genetics.
It’s uncertain how much genetics plays in Lewandowski’s early success in the sport, but he’s attempting to get better with each event.
“They say cross-country skiing is the best full-body workout you can get, I sure believe that after a race like this,” said an exasperated Lewandowski after the race.
A full body workout is only half the equation for competitors however. In a sport where missed shots turn into penalty laps and additional time, Lewandowski acknowledges shooting is his biggest challenge. If he’d made each of his ten shots in the sprint race, he likely would’ve finished in the top 15, according to Lehto.
Army Maj. Christopher Ruggerio, NG Biathlon coordinator, stressed that shooting in biathlons isn’t your typical marksmanship-type event.
“It is asking them to perform under duress … it’s increasing their heart rate and asking them to shoot accurately at targets 150 feet away,” Ruggerio said.
Whether skiing through the woods or shooting on the range, Lewandowski can be spotted easily during competition by a blaze-orange hat that accents his 6’3″ frame and, perhaps, proudly displays his Midwest roots. Ruggerio said he hopes Lewandowski’s early success will promote even more participation from Wisconsin in the National Guard Biathlon program.
Until then, Lewandowski will continue to “shoot, move and communicate” like the Army taught him and do his best to represent his fellow Soldiers, and students, of Wisconsin.
“To come out here and compete on behalf of your state, represent your state,” Lewandowski said, “you know … you can’t ask for anything better than that.”