Approximately 161 Air, Army and Sea Cadets from all over Northern Ontario braved the extreme cold warning on Saturday to participate in the annual Biathlon at the Algoma Rod and Gun Club.
This biathlon – which involves skiing and shooting targets – has been taking place in Sault Ste. Marie at the Rod and Gun Club for over 20 years. This is one of seven competitions run throughout Ontario to qualify teams and individuals for the Regional competition, which in turn qualifies a Team Ontario for the National competition in March.
“We’re really proud to be here, partnered with lots of people in Sault Ste. Marie, including the Algoma Rod and Gun Club, who has worked with us for years to put on a great event,” Lieutenant Colonel Tom McNeil, Deputy Commanding Officer and Chief Training Officer for the Cadet program in Ontario told SaultOnline during Saturday’s event.
McNeil has been involved in the Cadet program for 32 years, and said his interest to get involved with biathlon stemmed from his involvement with the Cadets.
Biathlon is one of the various ways the Cadet program promotes physical fitness and healthy living. Each athlete involved has an individualized meal plan based on caloric counts and dietary needs.
“It’s all about a healthy lifestyle,” McNeil explained, “which is habits that we try to inculcate in the young people that are participating in the program, because it’s important for lifelong health and happiness, so it’s a real core aim that we pursue.”
Cassandra Breckenridge, 16-years-old, was born and raised in the Sault and is a member of the 2310 Army Cadets. She has participated in biathlon for five years, and has gone to Nationals twice.
“It was really fun going to another province, it was in Quebec, and I really enjoy the competition because it’s more than just two days, it’s a week-long competition and there’s different style races.”
She said her favourite race is the patrol race, a military-style race where two cadets are partnered up together for the whole race, shooting targets individually, but also allowed to help each other out, which she said takes a lot of teamwork and trusting your partner.
Breckenridge told SaultOnline she has her dad to thank for her interest in biathlon, as he is the Chief of Competition here in the Sault.
“When I was little I’d come out and watch the older cadets skiing and I thought it was really interesting and I really wanted to shoot a 22, so I decided to do it myself,” she said.
Although she loves the sport, she said there are some challenges to it, such as endurance and dealing with the cold temperatures.
“It’s really cold out (today) and it was hard to feel (my) fingers during the race,” she said. “But sometimes it’s just trying to push yourself up the hills and not give up halfway through the hills and just shoot all the targets down, even if you’re having difficulty.”
Due to a lack of girls to partner up with, Breckenridge has had to race against both junior and senior males over the last two years, “which was definitely a challenge, but funny at the same time,” she said.
Chief of Competition Pierre Breckenridge, who’s also Cassandra’s father, has been involved in the biathlon for almost 30 years altogether, 19 of those as COC. He and his partner, Dick Witty, a retired officer with the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, built this program with the help of local construction companies as well as the Rod and Gun Club. He helps oversee the grooming of the trails, which is an all-year-long job. Breckenridge is also responsible for all aspects of the competition as it’s going on, which means he gets to decide what competitions they run, the length of the courses, etc.
Breckenridge said he took interest in the biathlon because the shooting program was beginning to decline, and he wanted to prevent that from happening.
“My concern was that safe, competitive shooting was not going to be an option going forward,” he explained. “Biathlon was a reasonably directed activity, so the cadets and the adults were able to continue to shoot using 22 and shoot target rifles for this program.”
He explained that this activity, if run properly, includes a dry-land training program that the Cadets and staff run during the year – which includes running and shooting – making it an all-year-round activity “that promotes physical fitness, teamwork, communication, and group camaraderie.”
One of the biathlon’s partners is Sault Search and Rescue, who spread out over the course in case of injuries or accidents.
Search Master Stephen Rouleau said, luckily, in the approximately 15 years they’ve been involved, they haven’t seen any serious injuries. This weekend, there were a few minor injuries such as twisted knees, as well as a few injuries due to the cold.
“It’s one of the problems with biathlon, you have to have very thin gloves so you can use the rifles, but that’s not the best on a very cold ski day,” he said. “It’s always a balance and some kids maybe chose poorly.”
Due to the extreme cold, the relay races were pushed to Saturday, and the Sunday portion of the biathlon was cancelled.
Cadets from all over the province will be at the Algoma Rod and Gun Club two weeks from now (Feb. 9-10) for the Regional competition. Two local Cadets – Cadet Master Warrant Officer Kaylee Marcil and Master Warrant Officer Cassandra Breckenridge, both from the 2310 Army Cadets – will be advancing to this competition.