(Note: This is the third in a series of interviews with athletes who will be competing at the first-ever winter Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria this winter. The first interview was with Sean Doherty and the second with Anna Kubek.)
When U.S. athletes toe the line at the first-ever Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck, Austria next January, the skiing equivalent of a Renaissance man will be among them.
Even though Nick Proell is just starting his junior year of high school at Saint Cloud Tech, he’s already done a lot in the ski world, from leading his team at the 2011 Minnesota state meet to winning the relay at 2011 Junior Nationals, racing in the Kortelopet, the 23k half-marathon of the American Birkebeiner, and now represnting the U.S. internationally in a totally separate sport: biathlon.
This summer, Proell has been taking a break from his whirlwind schedule to focus more specifically on biathlon. He joined the training trip to the Colorado Rockies with other members of the Youth Olympic Games squad, which included 100+ mile bike rides and conquering several 14,000-foot mountains.
FasterSkier caught up with the talented and busy high school athlete over e-mail.
FasterSkier: Can you tell me a little bit about your history as a skier? When did you start skiing?
Nick Proell: When I was in kindergarten some family members moved back to Minnesota from Washington and they introduced my family to cross-country skiing, so a couple times a month my parents forced me to go. Where I grew up there wasn’t many local cross-country skiing races for all ages and I liked more competitive sports, so when I was younger I was never introduced to competitive cross-country skiing. In seventh grade it all came into play when my cousin from Washington, Erik Rupert [who is now training at the Maine Winter Sports Center] talked me into joining the high school ski team. From then on I always wanted to be a better skier and athlete, the sport has been everything to me since then.
FS: What made you want to take up biathlon?
NP: Erik got me into the sport of biathlon my second year of competitive skiing. He always talked about how fun and challenging it was, so I tried it out with a local biathlon club, Greystone Biathlon. I also deer and grouse hunt so shooting came naturally my first time. It was one of the funnest sports I have ever tried.
FS: You’re a junior national champion in the relay, so you’ve obviously got the skiing part of biathlon down, too. How are the two coming together:
NP: I started shooting in eighth grade with my nordic ski coach and a couple other athletes once in awhile. Shooting always went pretty well for me. This summer I got a new gun though and it’s taken some time to get used to. I’m now starting to feel more comfortable with my positions.
FS: What club(s) do you train with, and how do you divide your focus between skiing and biathlon?
NP: When I started, I trained mostly with Nisswa Northwest with Bill Meyer. This past year I’ve trained at Mt. Itasca, in Grand Rapids, with Vladimir Cervenka. Last year I had rough time between high school racing, junior olympic qualifiers, and biathlon. This spring I made a commitment to myself to mostly focus on biathlon, and as part of my training I’m hoping to participate in a few high school races and JOQs.
FS: Have you ever raced internationally before?
NP: I trained in Altenberg, Germany for three weeks last summer and raced a few summer races. It went okay, but that was a year ago and a lot has changed.
FS: It’s pretty unusual for athletes to know this far ahead of time that they have made the team for a major international event. Has this changed your plans for the summer, fall, and early winter at all?
NP: Yeah, in some ways it has. I want to train the most efficiently this fall and winter so I can perform my best, so I enrolled in K12 Online High School. This gives me a more flexible schedule for training and a more rigorous class schedule.
FS: Not all of the teams have been announced yet, but for instance Canada will be bringing a very accomplished group of athletes, including Stuart Harden, who was 18th at World Juniors last year. How do you feel about the competition at this point?
NP: Competition will be stiff but I’m not going to worry too much about it. All I need to focus on is my best performance possible.
FS: What are you looking forward to most about the trip?
NP: Well, like any trip, I really like traveling to new places for training and racing. Austria will be a super awesome place to be because of the beautiful terrain and I look forward to meeting new athletes from my sport and other sports. Also just being apart of the inaugural U.S. Youth Winter Olympic Games team is an honor.