Going almost two years without competing hasn’t dulled the passion a local biathlete has for the sport, in fact, it’s only grown after a trip out west to take on Canada’s best.
Simon Gray recently returned from a trip to the Youth/Junior World Championship Trials in Vernon, B.C., where he got to race against the top young biathletes in the nation and learn what it takes to get to the next level.
“You can see the difference in the training, these are athletes that are training five or six times a week and shooting 8,000 to 10,000 rounds a year in their home facilities,” said his mother, Rhonda Gray, who joined Simon in B.C. “We’ve always heard that if you want to pursue biathlon, you probably have to move out west. You can see it once you get here and you’re in the environment that yes, you definitely need to be here to get there.”
Gray, a Grade-12 student at E.s.p. Nipissing Ouest, first got into the sport through Air Cadets. Biathlon piqued his interest because of his hunting background but it also gave a shy kid from Field a chance to make some new friends. Gray competed in regional competitions for the cadets for three years before starting to compete on the civilian side in 2019.
“I only had one race in my first civilian year and then after that COVID shut everything down for all of last year; it was only training that we were doing,” said Simon. “Then this year in December, there was an opportunity to go to a race in Vermont, so I went there for the weekend and raced, and I found out that I still enjoyed it.”
From there, the plan was to compete in the World Championship Trials in Valcartier, Que. in January, but provincial restrictions forced the event to move to B.C. The shift not only meant an additional cost to travelling, but it meant Gray’s coach, Angele Caporicci, wouldn’t be able to make the trip.
Gray races with the Timmins Biathlon Club because it’s the closest option that has a coach, highlighting the lack of available options in Ontario. However, because the biathlon community is smaller, it’s a tight-knit group that’s willing to lend a hand to all athletes. Over the week in Vernon, Gray was able to get coaching help from Tim Hurley of the Chelsea Nordiq Club in Gatineau.