BethAnn Chamberlain kicked off her 15-year competitive biathlon career in 1997 after experiencing a taste of the sport in Grand Rapids, Minn., and then attending a junior development camp in Lake Placid, N.Y. Little did she know that a niche sport here in the United States would provide her the keys to travel the world.
“When I first got involved, having the opportunity to go to (Junior World Championships) was a huge highlight and it opened my eyes to the world of where skiing and sport could take you, and all these opportunities that I had never had,” Chamberlain said, recalling her first international competition in Hochfilzen, Austria. She also competed in Ridnaun, Italy, and a number of the major European venues on the biathlon circuit. “Ridnaun was probably one of the most beautiful places I have every been. Getting to check out new venues and new places – all the racing I was able to do in Europe – I loved it all,” she added.
After 15 years of traveling, training, resting and racing, she moved on to the next chapters of life, eager to put her racing knowledge to work in other endeavors. After living in Aroostook County, Me., she moved across the country to Boulder, Colo., where she worked with the Boulder Junior Nordic Racing Team. While in Boulder, she also started working with the U.S. Paralympic Biathlon and Nordic Teams as both a coach and massage therapist.
Now back in the Midwest, Chamberlain is working on development projects with U.S. Paralympics and Central Cross Country, which is recognized as a Paralympic Sports Club – a community-based program to develop and involve youth and adults with Paralympic-eligible impairments in sports and physical activity, regardless of skill level.
Chamberlain was first introduced to CXC when working with former Paralympic Nordic coach Andrew Poffenberger.
“Andrew met a runner who was visually impaired – Mia Zutter,” Chamberlain said. “She was 14 or 15 at the time, and he got her started in skiing.”
Zutter has continued on a successful path in competitive skiing. As a member of the U.S. Paralympic Team, she competed in the Games in PyeongChang, South Korea and finished eighth in the 15k freestyle.
“That was one of the things early on, making that connection with Andrew and Mia, that gave us an opportunity to look further into how (U.S. Paralympics) could connect more with all the good things that (CXC) was doing.”
She also played a role in coaching CXC skier Kendall Gretsch. Gretsch, who discovered adaptive skiing through a CXC workshop, went on to win double gold at the 2018 Paralympics in PyeongChang. Chamberlain played a pivotal role as her development coach.
Chamberlain’s current work with CXC is to increase Paralympic Nordic opportunities for youth participants, which includes everything from finding young athletes, to establishing programming and competitive opportunities. She also credits Bruce Manske and CXC’s Nordic Rocks Program for providing opportunities to disabled kids to try Nordic sports.
“Providing sit skis for schools that can put them to use, and getting kids involved and opening their eyes has been a huge benefit of the Nordic Rocks program,” she said. “Sit skiing is just a crazy hard sport. But also really fun to be able to do and get out there with all your peers.”
Taking the program to the next level, Chamberlain is working to integrate an adaptive race component with CXC’s Youth Cup events, and other junior-level CXC events.
“For standing and visually impaired athletes, that may just involve integrating them into the event with time factoring,” she said. “Were not trying to make it even, just fair for everyone. It’s not all about winning, just leveling the playing field.”
The long term goal to provides today’s young athletes an opportunity to grow up through a Paralympic system, and provide a seamless process for programing and competition.
“We’re making baby steps,” Chamberlain said. “There is still a lot of work involved to get everybody to understand what we are doing. But we’re on a good track.”