Wake up: 7:30 a.m. Coffee: 7:45 a.m. Commute to work: 8:15 a.m.. Punch in at 9. Punch out at 5. While this may describe the daily routine of an average North American’s work week, it’s not the case for Biathlon Canada’s Nathan Smith. And to the 3o-year-old Calgary native, there’s nothing wrong with that.
While he maintains that putting his education on hold has been one of his biggest sacrifices by choosing biathlon as a career, Smith also sees his decision to take a few years and be his own boss as better than a bachelor’s degree — not only to make himself more marketable in the future, but more unique in his life experience.
“I guess my reasoning [for choosing this path] was, I could go to school and get my bachelor’s degree and then go and work,” Smith said recently on the phone. “But that’s kind of like, I guess I’ll put it as, that’s a normal career trajectory. That’s what everyone does.
“When I’m training, I’m like my own boss, kind of an entrepreneur,” added Smith, who has been taking a few college courses (mostly science) on-and-off since he graduated high school in 2004. “And I think it’s probably similar in the States, but unfortunately here in Canada, getting a bachelor’s degree isn’t even all that great. It just makes everyone overqualified.”
Instead, Smith has spent the past nine years (excluding the 2008/2009 season when he wasn’t named to the national team) sporting the red maple leaf of Canada. He’s also known to cruise the streets of Canmore, Alberta (where Biathlon Canada is based), on his 2007 Kawasaki ZZR 250 (at least when there’s no snow).
However, being a full-time biathlete was not always what Smith planned to do after high school. Before Biathlon Canada, he competed alongside his brother on Calgary’s local club biathlon team. And before that, he belonged to Calgary’s youth cross-country skiing program.
“I didn’t really know anything about the sport until I was doing Racing Rabbits which is [a program] for really young kids who [want to] cross-country ski in Calgary,” he said. “My brother and I were doing that and my mother was like, ‘Well, do you guys want to try biathlon?’ and we were like ‘Well, what’s that?’ and she was like, ‘Well, you shoot guns with skiing.’ I was 1o years old [at the time], so I was pretty excited about that … but I never really saw myself as staying in it past high school until I started to go to World Championships.”
Smith made his debut Junior World Championships appearance his sophomore of high school in 2002, and qualified again the following year, as well as in 2005 and 2006. From then on, he continued to build competition on competition, qualifying for his first World Championships in 2008, the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, five more World Championship events, and the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
During the 2014/2015 season, he had a breakthrough performance when he raced to a first place in the men’s 10-kilometer pursuit in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia. While he hopes to once again medal this season, he indicated that this year, doing so will take even more accurate shooting on his part, as many athletes continue to improve the speed of the shots they take.
“There’s definitely been some big changes in the way athletes approach the shooting range psychologically,” Smith explained. “It used to be a lot more cautious, [but] because skiing is getting tighter and tighter you really have to set yourself apart by shooting as fast as you can on the range.
“I’ve always been a fairly fast shooter,” he added. “So I’ve been focusing a little bit more on trying to improve accuracy while maintaining the speed I’m at.”
“There’s definitely been some big changes in the way athletes approach the shooting range psychologically. It used to be a lot more cautious … you really have to set yourself apart by shooting as fast as you can on the range.” –Nathan Smith on recent changes in biathlon
With a solid summer of volume training behind him, a fall full of intensity, and a few sessions on snow at the Snow Farm in New Zealand, Smith is excited about the start of a new season, but especially the fact that his job for another year will take place on skis.
“Obviously you go out there sometimes and there’s tough training days or times where you’re super tired or you’re having bad races and you’re like, ugh, why do I do this?” Smith said. “But if you have a normal 9-5 job, you’d have a lot more of those days I think.”
We asked Smith to give our ’17 Questions for 2017′ a go. Here are his responses:
1. Biggest change in your life in the last five or so months since the ski season ended?I’ve been making trips up to Grande Prairie to visit my girlfriend (and her kitten). It’s nice to get away from Canmore on rest weeks, decompress, and experience regular town life sometimes.
2. Biggest change in your training?
I haven’t had too many changes in over all training philosophy. The team was reorganized this spring so Matthias [Ahrens] is now my personal coach instead of Roddy [Ward]. They work closely together though so aside from feedback it hasn’t changed too much in day-to-day training.
3. Major areas of improvement you’ve seen so far?
I’ve made some good gains in lower body strength and double pole work.
4. Whom you’ve been working closest with this offseason (coaches or training partners)?Aside from Matthias and Roddy, we also have technique coaching at some camps from Mats Larsson. Former athlete Andrew Chrisholm has also been helping out our team on the range so we can get more individualized attention.
5. Best trip in the last five months (and why)?
Even though its not far, I always enjoy going to Jasper [Alberta] for “ManCamp”. It’s an amazing roller ski and drive up the Icefields Parkway, and the options for varied training once we get there are awesome. We also get to stay in rustic cabins on the river and practice slammo.
6. Favorite cross-training?
7. Favorite non-athletic activity or pastime this summer?
Motorcycling, and trying to fly fish.
8. Song that was your jam this summer?
That would definitely be Justin Bieber – I’ll Show You
9. All time favorite race moment?
Winning the pursuit at the world cup final in Khanty-Mansiysk in 2015
10. First thing you pack in your bag when you leave for Europe?
Armband. Never forget it!
11. Venue/event you’re most excited to visit this season?
Tyumen. I’ve never been there and I’m sure its going to be impressive
12. Who will win the men’s and women’s World Cup titles this year?Martin Fourcade and Laura Dahlmeier
13. Biggest sacrifice you feel you’ve made choosing this career path?Putting my education on hold.
14. If you could change one thing about your sport, what would it be?
Can it be -3, hard packed, calm, and sunny every day?
15. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I desperately needed to go grocery shopping, so 3 bowls of granola with milk and a banana.
16. In 5 years, I’ll be ____?
Living the retired athlete life.
17. In 50 years, I’ll be ____?
Hopefully well into my second retirement.
Gabby Naranja considers herself a true Mainer, having grown up in the northern most part of the state playing hockey and roofing houses with her five brothers. She graduated from Bates College where she ran cross-country, track, and nordic skied. She spent this past winter in Europe and is currently in Montana enjoying all that the U.S. northwest has to offer.