By the time Tara Geraghty-Moats leaves Sollefteå, Sweden, next month, it will have been almost a year – a year marked by ups and downs, new friends and new places, a disappointing World Junior Championships and then a turn at Swedish National Championships that netted her a gold medal.
So did the Vermont native, a former nordic combined athlete who has since switched to biathlon and now made three trips to World Juniors, become a Swede?
“It was really fun to train with everyone this year, we obviously all do biathlon and all train together, but I’m still ‘the American’,” she laughed in a Skype interview on Thursday.
But that didn’t change the fact that the year presented not only ramped-up racing opportunities, but an entirely different training environment – one where she actually had a full-fledged team, with all of the training benefits and camaraderie that comes along with it.
“I’ve trained with Craftsbury and Ford Sayre, which are really small clubs,” she said. “So it was nice to have a group to train with that were my age, and also a bigger group all winter long. To have a consistent schedule and people to train with almost every day was great.”
The move to Sollefteå’s biathlon gymnasium came about after earaghty-Moats and several other top American juniors did an exchange with the National Sports Academy last spring, a trip that was organized by U.S. Biathlon head coach Per Nilsson. With the dramatic change in venue, Geraghty-Moats said her goals were to keep her skiing speed the same, but to make improvements in her shooting. And that happened, thanks to the training environment. For young biathletes in the U.S., there’s really nothing that compares to a gymnasium. There’s barely as many athletes who compete at trials races as there are on a team in Sweden.
“I definitely got more consistent shooting training than I’ve ever gotten before, and it really paid off towards the end of the season,” she explained. “Hopefully I can carry that through to next season.”
A hip injury in January had sidelined her for a significant chunk of valuable training time; earlier this winter she told FasterSkier that it was “frustrating to go to Junior Worlds and not be able to do what I had been capable of earlier in the winter.” She finished in the 60’s in both the sprint and individual competitions. Geraghty-Moats was also picked to represent the U.S. in the junior races at Open European Championships, where she was “still not feeling awesome skiing, but [had] regained enough fitness to feel more in control of my races, which is a relief.”
After that trip though – to Bansko, Bulgaria – a scraped elbow while running led to a surprising, but luckily not too serious, blood infection. That cost the biathlete, who turned 20 this spring, yet another week of training.
“It would have been nice if it hadn’t happened, but it turned out not to be a big deal,” she admitted.
Because the cherry on top of the Sweden experience came in the junior sprint at national championships. After a year of racing, Geraghty-Moats said she was definitely not expecting to win a race. Starting the two-stage sprint with two penalties in prone knocked her expectations back even further.
“I was really hoping for a podium, that was my goal,” she said. “And I knew that if I missed more than one [after that] I wouldn’t have a chance at even making the podium… and that even if I missed one but didn’t shoot fast, I still wouldn’t be able to make the podium. Going into the last hill I was five seconds behind Chardine [Sloof] and my coaches were just going crazy. I tried to ski really fast and surprisingly enough I was able to make up the last few seconds.”
Sloof, a World Junior Champion last season, was relegated to second, and Geraghty-Moats collected top honors.
As she tweeted later this spring, by winning the sprint she joined an impressive list of athletes from Sollefteå’s I21 club to win a junior title. Among them are many who currently represent Sweden on the World Cup, as well as two-time World Champion and 2009 World Cup overall winner Helena Ekholm.
That thrill added to the general atmosphere at Swedish nationals, which is quite different than any domestic race Geraghty-Moats ever encountered in the America.
“It was obviously really fun,” she said. “Sweden is a big biathlon country, not like the U.S., so there were a lot of different clubs. It was a lot more like an international competition than like what we would think of as nationals in the U.S. Chardine Sloof, who actually competes for the Netherlands on the international circuit, was competing, so there was a bit of an international side to it. It was fun.”
So far this spring, Geraghty-Moats is back training with the ski gymnasium. She has about another month left in Sweden, so has been skiing, rollerskiing, and running with her team and coaches. The opportunity to get on snow at this time of year, she says, is special.
“We’re rollerskiing again already, and running,” she said. “We have a skiing camp next weekend. That should be fun. I’m looking forward to getting back on snow – we’ve had a taste of rollerskiing, and it definitely made me miss skiing.”
When she returns to Vermont, she’ll be living back home in West Fairlee, a small town of about 700 people on just off the Connecticut River, and training with Vermont Collegiate Biathlon coach Algis Shalna. She expects the general schedule to include two-week training camps in Jericho, Lake Placid, and Craftsbury, with rest periods at home.
Although it will be a return to a more solitary ski life, Geraghty-Moats is looking forward to it. She’ll rejoin not only Shalna and the other Vermont Collegiate athletes, but Sean Doherty, a teammate who recently became a Youth World Champion at the same event that left Geraghty-Moats disappointed. Despite the duo’s success, she said, she has no more confidence than before – because she already knew the program was a perfect fit. Saying that she was more positive now would imply that she had doubts before, which was emphatically not true.
“I’m really proud of Algis and Sean and their successes, but I’ve always thought Algis’s programs work great for me,” Geraghty-Moats said. “I think he does a really good job of having us all train at the same time, but having us focus on what each of us needs to focus on.”
Her goals for the next season focus on World Juniors, which will be at home (relatively speaking) in Preque Isle, Maine. In the meantime, she’ll continue to take classes online from the Community College of Vermont, as she has for more than a year, working towards her Associates Degree.
“There’s a certain amount of work I have to do every week, but there’s not set schedule that I have to do it on,” she said of her school schedule, which is ideal for an athlete. “That’s really nice. It can be a little iffy with the internet in Vermont though.”