Interview With Olympian Haley Johnson

Photo by Vianney Thibaut/ Agence Zoom/Getty Images

WH: How did you get started in the sport?

HJ: My earth science teacher and local coach, Kris, suggested I give Nordic (cross-country) skiing a try at the end of my freshman year of high school. At that time, I was racing alpine (downhill) competitively but was no longer having fun. I switched that summer and was able to give biathlon a try because U.S. Biathlon was recruiting new juniors. Basically, I was in the right place at the right time, influenced by the right people, and ready to try something new.

What are your goals for the Olympics?

On one hand, making it to the Olympics is a huge reward for all the hard work I've put into my career. On the other, I know I am capable of reaching peak performances. It's a bit of fun but also realistic to think of achieving a top 20 individual result and a top 10 relay result. It is 2010, so why not?

What goes through your mind right before a race?

Not much, which might be a surprise, but the key is to be in the moment. Of course there is the general inner dialogue of making sure I have prepared right, gotten my race skis checked, etc., but for the most part, I keep pretty quiet.

How do you deal with the stress of it all?

(Laugh). I wish I could deal with it better, but I have figured out a few little tricks for myself throughout the past few years of intensive training and extensive travel. Staying calm and relaxed, but with a certain degree of focus and seriousness, is paramount. One thing that helps is keeping a good routine—that way, when I get to the start gate, I am confident that I have done all the training and preparation to give me the best chance possible to reach an optimal performance. Mental training has also been very important for me. Once I realized that, I was finally able to develop the mental skills I needed to cope with the stress of training and competing in a very intense sport. And knitting helps relax both my mind and body. The key is to learn when to turn yourself "off" and "on" so you're not wired and thinking about biathlon all the time.

How do you divide your time between shooting and skiing?

During training months (April to November), a lot is crammed into each day to be able to spend adequate time on both shooting and physical training. I wake up around 6:30 to dryfire (practice my shooting position without live rounds) and take a walk before breakfast. We have a morning session—usually roller-skiing and shooting at our nearby shooting range. That goes from 8:30 until 11:30 or so. I come home, shower, stretch, and have a post-workout snack, then eat lunch, take a nap, or take care of e-mails. Our afternoon session starts around 3:00 and can go right up until dinner. After dinner, I usually relax and then head to bed, or take the time to visit with family. Once we get into the winter, we race on snow on the international World Cup circuit. Then our training is more individualized and depends on what we need to work on in that session. Some sessions consist of small loops and hundreds of shots, over and over and over again, for an hour or more. Other times, to clear our heads and recover our racing muscles, a long classic ski can be glorious.

What do you do to stay motivated during hard days of training?

One useful piece of advice I got was that these training days are like putting "time" in the bank. These are the "savings" that will help me ski fast when I need to later in the competition season. The experience of a tough day now will only help later on.

What else do you do besides skiing to stay in shape?

The beauty of Nordic skiing is that you can do all sorts of cross training to keep workouts fun, motivating, and refreshing. Living in the Adirondacks also helps, because there are endless trails to run and hike, roads to bike, and lakes and rivers to paddle and swim. Some of my favorite summer workouts are when we get to mix these together—a long run and then a paddle around Mirror Lake.

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