Biathlon strengthens family ties

Brynn Witwicki had two goals in mind when she lined up in the start gate for her B.C. Cup biathlon race Sunday at Otway Nordic Centre.

First and foremost, she wanted to ski and shoot as fast as she could to go after the medals in the senior girls class.

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For added inspiration she made it her mission to try to catch up to her 40-year-old dad Alan, who was making his debut representing the Caledonia Nordic Ski Club as a biathlon racer after six years as her coach.

Alan started his masters sprint race 10 minutes before the clock started on 15-year-old Brynn's senior girls race and she didn't quite catch him on the course but she got her medal, placing second in the six-kilometre sprint, 1:34 behind race winner Kira Friesen of West Kelowna's Telemark Biathlon Club, who won in 34:41.

"It's really good to have my dad out here - he's a good role model," said Brynn, who began the weekend with a bronze-medal win Saturday in the 7.5 km individual race. "It's good to finally see him out here and he understands what it's like to race and that it's not super-easy. He has a better understanding now.

"I tried to pass him but he was too quick. I was really close. I just heard everybody saying, 'Pass him Brynn, pass him.' When I was trying to catch him he was going to the finish and I was going back into the range so I never had the chance to get him."

Alan grew up in Penticton and has a background in cycling as a road and mountain bike racer, but until the weekend he'd never ski raced. Having to hit rifle targets only complicated matters. He nailed eight of 20 targets in the individual race Saturday and went five-for-10 in the sprint.

Brynn shot 11-for-20 in the individual race and six-for-10 in the sprint.

"It was a total eye-opener - things I tell her start to make sense," said Alan. "When I say 'sight picture' (a critical part of aiming the rifle) it seems really easy, but it's not at all. As soon as you've got a (rapid) heart rate, that all goes out the window trying to aim. It's tough. It's so hard to come in to the range when you're breathing hard, to try to control that breathing long enough to get that shot off."

Brynn, a Grade 10 student at PGSS who also attends the Engage Sport North Canadian Sport School at UNBC, offers pointers to her dad when they go out together to practice their skiing. None of that instruction was enough to prevent Alan's face-plant when he tripped over a v-board that marked the course while skiing a penalty loop.

"It's hard but it's fun," said Alan. "I never skied as a kid, I started when she started (at age 8). I wanted to be out here with her."

He started out as a Jackrabbits coach and branched off to biathlon as Brynn's rifle-handler soon after she got involved, joining a group of biathlon parents who help share the coaching workload. Alan trained all summer with Caledonia's senior group.

Both Witwickis plan to race as many of the B.C. Cup events as they can the rest the season. Brynn is one of 40 biathletes selected by Biathlon Canada for a week-long World Cup Experience camp Feb. 5-11 in Canmore when the Alberta city hosts the BMX World Cup Biathlon tour.

The camp will be overseen by 2018 Olympic team coach Roddy Ward, Biathlon Canada's long-term athlete development director and several other high-performance coaches who will lead the athletes in training sessions on the World Cup course. The camp will include nutrition, psychology and strength and conditioning sessions.

Brynn gets to participate in a TV test race used to place the cameras for worldwide coverage of the races, will fore-run the course, and will serve as a volunteer. She's also looking forward to spending time with Canada's World Cup team, which includes Megan Tandy and Sarah Beaudry of Prince George.

"I'll be getting exposure to the national level to see the amount of work they need to put in and the different schedules they have," said Brynn.

Alan was also accepted for the camp as a volunteer coach, along with Nicole Perrin, the Caledonia club's head coach.

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