Emily Dreissigacker on World Cup Cusp

Jason AlbertOctober 25, 2017
Emily Dreissigacker (CGRP) at the start of the women’s sprint at the 2017 US Biathlon Rollerski Championships on Aug. 12 in Jericho, Vt. (Photo: John Lazenby/Lazenbyphoto.com)

Say this name three-times fast: “Dreissigacker”.

Not so easy at first.

Break the four-syllable surname into discrete parts: Driess (with a hard I) – i – gack – er.

It then rolls off the tongue … Dreissigacker.

In northern Vermont and in particular around the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, Emily Dreissigacker, of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) is as well known a name as any. Her parents, Dick Dreissigacker and Judy Geer, bought the Outdoor Center in 2009. Both are Olympic rowers.

And both of Emily’s siblings are biathletes. Her older sister Hannah, 30, was a 2014 Olympic biathlete who retired in 2016 and younger brother Ethan, 26, formerly raced for the Green Racing Project.

At 28, (she’ll be turning 29 in November), Emily Dreissigacker is on the cusp of making it onto the International Biathlon Union (IBU) World Cup representing the US Biathlon Association (USBA). 

A week ago, she was selected for US Biathlon’s on-snow camp in Canmore, Alberta. Of the five women chosen for that camp, three are already penned to start on the World Cup next month: Susan Dunklee, Clare Egan and Kelsey Dickinson. The last remaining World Cup spot is reserved for either Joanne Reid, a national A-team member, or Dreissigacker.

“I’m not really feeling the pressure,” Dreissigacker wrote in an email about a possible World Cup nod. “I’m just excited to get out there and ski on snow and get in some really solid training.”

Perhaps this is a reason why the USBA’s high-performance team recruits and promotes older athletes — with age and experience comes a calmness. With time comes wisdom: winning or losing in sport doesn’t define a person.

There’s been both winning and losing and the in-between for this Dreissigacker, who grew up near Craftsbury in Morrisville, Vermont, and married her teammate Alex Howe last summer.

Emily Dreissigacker shooting clean during her first prone stage of the women’s 15 k individual race at 2017 IBU Open European Championships in Duszniki-Zdrój, Poland. She finished 41st. (Eurovision screenshot)

“At this point, competing at the Olympics had been a dream of mine for so long that it felt inextricably entwined with who I was as a person,” Dreissigacker wrote in a June 2015 blog post. “I could feel it slowly but surely slipping out of my grasp and yet I couldn’t let go. I thought about quitting, but there was always something pulling me back. Don’t get me wrong, I loved racing. I loved racing against my teammates in practice, I loved lining up side by side for a 2k or blindly pushing myself past all reason in an interval start. But the training, the whole process had gotten stale. I felt like I was slogging my way through each steady state workout, counting down the minutes rather than enjoying the time I had. Meanwhile, I jealously eyed the skiers leaving each morning for what looked to me like exciting adventures. They got to go biking and hiking and running and rollerskiing (yes, I was jealous of rollerskiing)! But it never really seemed like a viable option to me. I was a rower.”

Since that 2015 blog post, Dreissigacker has been a biathlete.

After eight years training as a rower, she tapped into her adolescent and teenage years as a skier. Like some of her peers — Reid, Egan and Dunklee come to mind — Dreissigacker learned to shoot in atypical fashion: she didn’t train as a junior biathlete and came to biathlon later in their athletic careers. (Reid, Egan and Dunklee all competed at the NCAA Division 1 level.)

“I skied in high school and tried biathlon once, so I had shot a rifle before but not well and not for long,” Dreissigacker wrote. “I also hadn’t trained for skiing, other than a bit of cross training here and there, so I’m definitely playing catch up on that side of things too. Rowing is much more of an anaerobic sport so building up my aerobic base has been and still is a big focus. As well as pretty much re-learning how to ski. I definitely still have a lot to work on in both regards.”

Despite her perceived deficiencies, Dreissigacker’s results show what any coach desires — positive trends when it comes to skiing speed and shooting accuracy. Dreissigacker spent the 2016 and 2017 race seasons on the IBU Cup, a step down from the World Cup.

In March of last year, Dreissigacker earned a top 20 on the IBU Cup. This year, she skied and shot consistently enough in the four-part 2017 USBA rollerski trials series to get picked for the Canmore preseason camp. In the first half of the trials, she placed fifth in both races in mid-August. A month later, she jumped the ranks with first and second place finishes at Part 2 of trials in Jericho.

Emily Dreissigacker (CGRP) racing to fifth in the women’s mass start at 2017 US Biathlon Rollerski Championships on Aug. 13 in Jericho, Vt. (Photo: John Lazenby/Lazenbyphoto.com)

As she ramped up for trials, Dreissigacker spent time in Europe with the Green Racing Project. That trip also gave her time to train with national-team biathletes.   

“Our European camp this year had much more of a biathlon focus,” Dreissigacker explained. “We did essentially the same trip as the National team so we were able to train with them some. We got to race at German summer rollerski nationals which was a great opportunity to get in more racing and also to experience a really high level of racing. And we got to ski on snow in the Oberhof tunnel. The trip was also a little earlier so after we got home I had a really solid training block in Lake Placid before an easy week at home leading up to trials.”

According to USBA Chief of Sport Bernd Eisenbichler, this year’s version of the European training swing was beneficial for Dreissigacker.

“The camp setup that the Craftsbury team had this summer, accompanying us on the Europe camp instead of going to the Dachstein glacier, choosing to go to the ski hall in Oberhof, helped also to have her performance level in the fall,” Eisenbichler wrote in an email. “Last year we saw that August was quite okay but then the fall, she was really really tired. I don’t know if I would get agreement from Craftsbury, but I would argue that the camp setup was smarter this year and that is why she was in better shape this October.”

Finding form and peaking when it counts isn’t an outcome hard science can unfailingly predict. Be it her modified camp in Europe or the confidence that comes with experience, Dreissigacker performed at this year’s USBA rollerski trials.

“Em has been on the biathlon development program for the last 2 years and on the biathlon team training plan, she works with [USBA Development Coach] Jean Paquet now most of the time,” CGRP Head Coach Pepa Miloucheva wrote in an email. “Last year the Craftsbury biathlon team did travel to Europe for a camp on snow with the skiers, this year the biathlon team  The Europe ski trip was more biathlon specific at the ski tunnel in Oberhof with the USBT [US Biathlon team].”

Dreissigacker’s shape and shooting accuracy could serve her well as she transitions to snow in Canmore. The Canmore camp on Frozen Thunder will conclude Nov. 10. And as for the rest of the season, the IBU World Cup could be seeing a new Dreissigacker this winter.

Jason Albert

Jason lives in Bend, Ore., and can often be seen chasing his two boys around town. He’s a self-proclaimed audio geek. That all started back in the early 1990s when he convinced a naive public radio editor he should report a story from Alaska’s, Ruth Gorge. Now, Jason’s common companion is his field-recording gear.