After graduating from the College of St. Scholastica in 2015, Paul Schommer was identified as a potential biathlon talent by the US Biathlon Association. He has been going full bore in his new sport ever since and was recently invited to the national team’s pre-World Cup camp in Canmore, Alberta. Part of US Biathlon’s senior national development group, the 24-year-old Schommer was on the short list for a World Cup starting spot which he ultimately lost out on to Russell Currier, but proved that he’s getting close to the top level of American biathlon just a short time after switching sports.
1. Biggest change in your life in the last five or so months since the ski season ended?
I would have to say the biggest change in my life has been moving out to Lake Placid full time. Training in Hayward was great, but coming out to Lake Placid and having all the resources here has been an amazing opportunity. The staff here really makes it possible for us to concentrate on becoming a better athlete by taking care of simple daily tasks. For example, I step out the door and roller ski to the range, which is already set up by all the coaches, and do my workout. When I return back my room has been cleaned by a housekeeping staff member and I head to the cafeteria where food is hot and ready. To me, that’s just amazing and it’s because of all the awesome people here at the OTC that make it happen. It’s also incredible to have world class coaching day in and day out. It really makes a huge difference and am stoked to be able to be here training with the team.
2. Biggest change in your training?
I would say sheer volume and intensity has increased in the past year. My coach at St. Scholastica Chad Salmela and I have been working on increasing my aerobic efficiency ever since I got to Duluth, and I am now starting to reap the benefits of that training. My ability to come back day after day and train at a higher level has allowed me to increase my quality training. In conjunction with this, I have not been working a part-time job like in years past. Due to my financial situation in the past, I have always had to work a part-time job to support myself. However, this year I decided if I was going to do biathlon, I would have to do it right. Money is always tight but thankfully God has put a lot of people in my life that have helped out a ton. The increase in training is definitely a result of the work done with Chad while at St. Scholastica, but being able to recover properly between workouts also makes a huge difference.
3. Major areas of improvement you’ve seen so far?
I touched briefly on my physiological improvement in the previous question, but biathlon is two sports in one. As my ski performance has continued to improve, so has my shooting performance from day to day. The first year of biathlon is an up and down roller coaster, have good days only to be followed by terrible days. The key is to find consistency, which is coming around more and more. As I have become more and more comfortable on the range, I am able to hit more targets consistently. A lot of this has come from lots of dry fire in the past year and shooting more rounds this summer than last year.
4. Whom you’ve been working closest with this offseason (coaches or training partners)?
While I was in Hayward this summer, I was all by myself. It was awesome to have that time to myself, work through things on my own and not have to rely on anyone else. However, being able to come to Lake Placid for camps made a huge difference and always helped keep me stay motivated. When in Lake Placid, I worked with Jean Paquet most the time, the head Development Coach at USBA. Working with Jean has been great and I’ve always jived well with him. For a training partner, Jake Brown and I do most of our workouts together. We have a really healthy competitive relationship with each other which allows us to push each other in workouts but still have fun. We are great friends and having him in Lake Placid makes things enjoyable both during and after training.
5. Best trip in the last five months (and why)?
Most my traveling is for training purposes, and I don’t have much expendable income for travel beyond that. So when I do have a few days off, I tend to use it to see those I love, whether that be heading home to see family or meeting up with friends. It’s hard to pick on specific trip that means more than another as each one holds its own special meaning. I mean, The Bjorn Bakken Ski Championships of America are a huge deal, the biggest deal, and I had a blast, but also moving my younger brother into college this fall was also awesome, but in a totally different way. So simply put, I’ve had a lot of awesome trips in the past five months and I can’t really say one was better than the other. And what made them all awesome wasn’t because of where I went, but because of the people that were there.
6. Favorite cross-training?
Normally I would say mountain biking but this summer I did a lot of paddling in a surfski and really grew to love it. There are so many lakes in the Hayward area and I had a blast going and exploring these on days where it was too hot to double pole, or just wanted a break from the usual training grind. I had a few evenings where I was the only one on the lake with the sunset reflecting of the glassy water and all seemed right in the world.
7. Favorite non-athletic activity or pastime this summer?
Probably the exact opposite of that, just sitting around doing nothing. Where I live this summer I didn’t have internet or phone service so I spent a lot of time just sitting around reading and praying, and it was awesome. When I would be in Lake Placid and have internet, I would start to miss the disconnected life I had back in the woods of northern Wisconsin. I loved just hanging out on the porch in the evening just chilling. It was so peaceful and relaxing. It makes me sound old and boring but I loved it.
8. Song that was your jam this summer?
King of My Heart by Steffany Gretzinger. There were a lot of times I was out skiing or doing a workout and this song would just be playing in my head and would just bring a smile to my face.
9. All-time favorite race moment?
I would have to say the Minneapolis SuperTour at Wirth in 2010. I was a senior in High School and it was my first year ski racing competitively. I was having a bit of a rough season and was having trouble putting together a good race. Before the race my older brother Philip told me, “Paul, if you’re flowing keep it going, if you’re pressin’, you’re messin’.” I took his advice and for the first kilometer or two just tried to flow. As the race continued, I just kept passing people so just kept it flowing. At the finished I was the fastest J1 of the day, which even took me by surprise as my best finish prior to that had been 12th. The best part was at this time absolutely no one knew who I was as I just started competing. When I was looking at results a kid next to me turned to his friend and asked, “Who the heck is Paul Schommer?”
10. First thing you pack in your bag when you leave for Europe?
11. Venue/event you’re most excited to visit this season?
Anywhere I get to race and haven’t been to already. I love going to new places and meeting new people so I hope I have the opportunity to go to new places and meet new people this season. When the season concludes, I always look forward to heading back to the Ski Haus for the Bjorn Bakken Ski Championships of America, the greatest backyard ski race on the planet. They always have a great course to really test the skills.
12. Who will win the men’s and women’s World Cup titles this year?
On the women’s side I’d have to go with Marie Dorin Habert. On the men’s side, I think it’s going to be a tight race between Martin Fourcade and Johannes Thingnes Boe.
13. Biggest sacrifice you feel you’ve made choosing this career path?
I don’t really feel like I have sacrificed much. Right now, I am thankful to have this opportunity and don’t have any regrets.
14. If you could change one thing about your sport, what would it be?
Have people know what it actually is. Haha, this is a blessing and a curse at the same time. Not many people in the US know what biathlon and right off the bat guess it is biking and running. However, this also gives me an opportunity to introduce people to the sport and in turn help grow it. Biathlon is a very spectator friendly sport, which is evident by the fact that it is the most watched winter sport in central Europe. Talking with some people of USBA it sounds like they are going to be doing a few things in the coming year to help bring biathlon to Americans which is pretty exciting.
15. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I’m on this new diet so I had an orange peel, half a banana, and a peanut. I’m only kidding, I had oatmeal.
16. In 5 years, I’ll be ____?
Thinking about the Birkie.
17. In 50 years, I’ll be ____?
Training for the Birkie.