Paul Schommer arrived in China on Saturday after a flight from Milan, Italy.
That’s a far cry from his current home in Fargo, North Dakota, where he lives with his Green Bay native wife Jillian while she does her medical residency.
And it’s a far cry from Appleton, where the 29-year-old grew up and eventually graduated in 2010 from Kimberly High School.
And it’s been a long mental journey for Schommer from the years he spent battling an eating disorder that began in his early teens and nearly derailed his athletic dreams before they could. to take off.
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A late bloomer at the biathlon competition
If there’s a typical path to becoming an Olympian, Schommer certainly didn’t take it.
“Not far,” he said in a phone interview from Antholz, Italy, where he trained and competed before heading to China for the Winter Olympics. “I mean, my journey into biathlon, I think, is very different from most other people. I’m obviously very grateful for the things that got me here, even if some of them were a bit more difficult. In the end, it’s all of those things that I think helped me get to where I am today.
In a sport dominated by European athletes who, according to Schommer, are on skis by the age of 4 or 5, racing in elementary school and picking up a rifle by the age of 10 or 11, Schommer should be considered a late bloomer.
“In a way, I think it puts me at a disadvantage, but at the same time when I watch it, I always ask questions like, ‘What would have happened if I had started so young?’ Would I have been burned Would I have had enough Would I have gone another direction I think there are a lot of things that I have learned and the ways that I have grown from my own path who have helped me in my own way.
“It’s hard sometimes to say, ‘Oh, well, if I had been doing this since I was 10, I could have been here or there or whatever. I think that it’s a hard thing because I did it and I’m here now It’s definitely a very unconventional way to do it and I think it makes the trip and now the trip real to go to Beijing much more meaningful because I know where I’m from and I just know it’s really kind of like a miracle in its own way.”
The Olympic biathlon competition begins on Saturday and ends on February 19. Schommer said he was guaranteed to have at least three races – the 10km sprint, the 20km individual and a relay race – but could take part in up to six races in China.
He joined the cross-country ski club in high school and this led to him competing on the St. Scholastica College ski team, where at age 22 he was introduced to the sport of biathlon. .
Although he started late in the sport, he knew almost immediately that he had what it took to succeed and potentially become an Olympian.
“I think when I started biathlon in 2015 I definitely had the goal,” he said. “It was something I knew I could potentially achieve. I knew I had the physical gifts. I didn’t know all the other steps I needed to take to get there. I think it seemed doable at the time. -the.
Setback for the 2018 PyeongChang Games
Schommer expected to be on Team USA for the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. He had competed in a World Cup event in 2017 on the same courses that would be used the following year at the Olympics and had done well.
Unfortunately, illness during the USA Team Trials the following year slowed his progress and he ultimately failed.
“I really felt like this was the year,” he said. “It went from something doable to like achievable and then became a goal.”
He regrouped and set his sights on this year’s Olympics in China and qualified for Team USA in the first race of the season. He then had to wait a few weeks to see if anyone would eclipse his time. This does not happen.
It’s been a trip full of ups and downs, which makes the place on Team USA that much more special.
“When I went from cross-country skiing to biathlon, you have to learn to shoot and that requires a lot of humility. You’re just going to struggle for about a year while you learn to shoot. You’re going to have days where you’re like, ‘Oh man, I think I figured that out.’ And then the next day you can’t hit a target to save your life,” he said. “Just understanding the mental approach and being able to deal with failure, I think, is something that makes a lot of people quit biathlon before they can really see things start to move.”
Dealing with COVID-19 restrictions
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Schommer will not have family with him in China, so he will have to rely on the support of his teammates and other competitors.
“It would be great to have my family there, but at the same time I’m kind of used to being on the road and running around and not having my family with me in person,” he said. . “It would make that Olympic experience a bit more meaningful, but at the same time it’s really difficult when you live in the athletes’ village and there are already these restrictions and you are focused on your event.”
The course in China is new for the competitors. Schommer said there was supposed to be a pre-Olympic World Cup last year but it was canceled due to the pandemic. He said wax techs made the trip just after Christmas to test the skis and wax and learn as much as they could about the site.
According to Schommer, the place is at a fairly high altitude and close to the Great Wall of China. He thinks American athletes could have an advantage as they are used to adapting to different venues and course conditions when traveling across Europe for competitions.
“I think it opens up a lot of potential opportunities for a lot of athletes,” he said. “If you have a good day, you might end up on the podium. I like to think that might work in our favor as Americans just because we’re always traveling we always have to adapt to new places so I think we’re going to be a little better than maybe some of the other European countries. .”
Schommer said his goal before the start of the season is to finish in the top 20 overall at the Olympics. He is coming off his best result of the season on January 20 when he took ninth place at the IBU World Cup in Antholz in the men’s 20km individual.
“I don’t have much higher expectations than just racing and running the best races I can,” he said. “I think a lot of times we place huge expectations on athletes and that really sets them up for failure. But for us, I think we just think that if we’re going to ski our best and keep doing the work on the range that we’ve been doing, things will fall into place and we’ll have good results. Just trying to keep it simple and go out there and do our best.
With the athletes’ village for biathlon athletes about three hours from Beijing, Schommer does not plan to participate in the opening ceremonies.
It’s about the only Olympic experience he lacks. Everything else, he can’t wait to get started.
“I would say that I am more and more excited. I’m kind of ready to go out there, see what the site looks like and run,” he said. “That’s why my teammates and I train and prepare all year, it’s to see what we can do in the race. I want to see what it looks like, but it’s also going to be cool to see the scenery, to travel to a new place.
“I’ve been to South Korea for some races, but other than that I haven’t really spent any time in Asia. It’s going to be a bit of a shame that we can’t do anything with COVID, but at the same time being in a new place and being in the village is going to be really great.
Contact Mike Sherry at (920) 996-7244 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MikeSherry14.