At the 2010 Olympics, Megan Tandy turned in the best Canadian performance in the women’s biathlon races, placing 36th in the 10 k pursuit. She was just 21 years old, and seemed sure to contribute to a growing Canadian team in the next few years.
But then, Megan Tandy disappeared. She got married, had a baby, moved out of Canada and then squeaked her way onto the 2012 World Championships team as Megan Heinicke. Although that season, her first full one since giving birth to her son Predo, didn’t go as planned, she placed 30th in the individual race.
This season, Heinicke is off to a better start. She was selected to race on the IBU Cup in the openers, and then after a top-ten finish in Beitostolen, Norway, moved up to the World Cup. After a single weekend of competition at the highest level, Heinicke has already turned in an impressive race: the pursuit in Hochfilzen, Austria, where she skied from 57th up to 29th.
“I did have a tough season last year with a lot of health struggles during the first half of the season,” Heinicke wrote in an e-mail after the Canadians’ 13th-place effort in Sunday’s relay. “I have had a really great training this summer and fall and have been able to stay healthy and injury free. I am really happy to be back on tour full time. Racing is simply a lot of fun when you feel fit and can fight for your goals.”
Especially nice, she said, was the feeling of being able to attack on her skis. She believes that she’s never been this fast.
“This year I am skiing faster than ever before which is, of course, great,” she told FasterSkier. “Seeing myself with ski times among the top 30 in the world certainly opens the door to results that simply weren’t realistic before.”
The increase in ski speed has likely come with Heinicke’s maturing as an athlete, but also other major changes. This season, for instance, she’s had a solid summer of training in a new venue: Altenberg, Germany. Before, Heinicke and her family lived in Klingenthal, but Heinicke’s husband iLmar took a job as head coach of the German National Training Center in Altenberg this spring, and Heinicke can train with the squad.
“Looking back on this month I am sure that I have a good setup here that can take me through the rest of the season,” she wrote on her blog shortly after the first big training block in Altenberg.
The summer progressed well too, with Heinicke competing at German national championships and, she indicated on her blog, achieving results that would have placed her on the German “A” team.
And unlike last fall, when illness during the trials that led to team selection took place, Heinicke was able to start the season on the World Cup instead of playing catch-up and trying to hitch on later. But even though she’s doing well athletically and is happy with her training situation, taking a year off and then struggling in 2012 has taken its toll.
“Funding has definitely been a bigger challenge for me post Olympics,” Heinicke said. “I think it is a combination of the excitement over the Games fading, my having taken the 2010-11 season off and me training outside of the country a lot of the time. Sometimes it is frustrating as I am still training with 100% dedication and am still as Canadian as ever!
“I still need a lot of help from my family to make a full season of training possible,” she continued, noting that it isn’t currently feasible for her to move the family back to Canmore and take advantage of the usual national team benefits, despite being named to the team for the last several years. “Of course I am very, very lucky to have a family who is so willing to help me make my sport goals possible but it would be fantastic if I could get back to a point where my training needs could be fully covered by sponsorship.”
Several sponsors, including NFA and ACCUPRO, have stuck with her, but Heinicke says that she doesn’t receive the government support that her other Canadian teammates do.
Nevertheless, private and family support has allowed her to get back to the World Cup, where she’s doing better than ever, although it’s come in many cases despite uncharacteristically poor shooting, which the British Columbia native finds frustrating. In the 29th-place finish in Hochfilzen, the second-best of her career, Heinicke bested that pattern, and she says that she will be trying to put the same lessons to use in her next several starts.
“I am really looking forward to the next races and a calm mentality on the range will continue to be my focus next weekend as well,” she told FasterSkier. “I need to find the right balance between my skiing and shooting and I am sure that the more races I do the more confident I will become, and will be able to slowly return to my reliable shooting from previous seasons.”
She is going to be missing one source of inspiration now that the World Cup has moved to Pokljuka, Slovenia.
“It was really nice to have my in-laws and my 2-year-old son, Predo, here to cheer me on this weekend,” she wrote before leaving Austria.
Chelsea Little is FasterSkier's Editor-At-Large. A former racer at Ford Sayre, Dartmouth College and the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, she is a PhD candidate in aquatic ecology in the @Altermatt_lab at Eawag, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Zurich, Switzerland. You can follow her on twitter @ChelskiLittle.