I slowly exhale, trying to ease my rapid breathing. Looking through the rifle’s spotting scope, I pull the trigger and let out a mental “Woo Hoo” when the light on the target turns green. I repeat the process four more times and, by the end, I have three targets lit up in bright green and two in bright red. That means I have to ski two penalty laps of the Roundabout Trail to make up for my poor aim on the two missed targets.
I am in the middle of the biathlon race for the Wyoming Winter Senior Olympics held a week ago at the Happy Jack Recreation Area. The biathlon, which involves shooting and cross-country skiing, is the final sport for the three day event. For this version of biathlon, we used laser rifles that lit up the targets instead of leaving holes.
This is the first time Laramie hosted the Winter Wyoming Senior Olympics, although they have put on the Summer Games numerous times. It brought 156 athletes from around Wyoming and as far away as Texas to compete in 10 different sports. Race venues included Happy Jack Recreation Area for the Nordic skiing, biathlon, snowshoeing and snowbiking while Alpine ski races were hosted by the Snowy Range Ski and Recreation Area. Speedskating and hockey shoot took place at the Laramie Ice Arena while pickleball, power walking and swimming were held at the Laramie Recreation Center.
In addition to the competitors, about the same number of volunteers also participated to ensure the events ran smoothly. From timers at the swim meet to scorekeepers for pickleball and gate-setters at the Alpine ski races, the Laramie community really came out to ensure the success of the event and to welcome the competitors.
Heading the list of volunteers is Larry Foinini and Georgia Carmen who led a small planning group with venue “commissioners” to make preparations that began months before the actual event.
“Our committee couldn’t have done it without all of the other volunteers,” Foinini said. “They all stepped up and did a wonderful job. My thanks to everyone who helped make it happen.”
Possibly the most grueling of all the events was the snowbike race. This is the relatively new sport of pedaling in the snow atop beefy bikes with big, knobby tires.
Due to several of inches of light snow overnight, the race course was very soft. Snowbiking is easiest on hardpack trails. The bikes turn into torture racks when plowing through soft fluff.
Georgia Carmen, who competed in the race and earned the gold medal in her age group, said it was more of a hike-a-bike event, where many competitors spent as much time walking their bike through the deep snow, as they did sitting in the saddle and pedaling.
Snowbike race commissioner and owner of The Pedal House, Dewey Gallegos, did his best to pack the trails the night before the race but Mother Nature just kept piling it on. The race course was a 5 km distance where competitors either did one or two laps. Given the conditions, Gallegos announced before the race that a racer doing the 10 kilometer distance could opt to do the 5 kilometer race after completing one loop, but only if they were the only one in their age group.
By race completion, a number of competitors took him up on the option – and were grateful they didn’t have to struggle through the course for a second loop.
Most impressive were the snowbike competitors who went immediately from that grueling race to the biathlon event. They showed true grit in doing two tough races back-to-back. Never mind that every one of them was also at least 50 years old, which is the minimum age to compete in the Senior Olympics.
Back at the biathlon, I proved I was far from being Annie Oakley. Of my two sets of five shots, I made half of them. That meant I had to complete five penalty laps in addition to the three laps of the actual race course. While I suspect someone in the competition managed to avoid doing penalty laps altogether, two men confessed to me they missed all their shots and had to circle the penalty loop 10 times.
In spite of their poor aim, the two men, like me, skied away with the gold since all three of us were the only ones in our age groups. That is how it goes sometimes in the Senior Olympics where you get the top prize just for showing up at the starting line — and surviving to cross the finish line.
While the 2020 Wyoming Winter Senior Olympics are history, the good news is that they return to Laramie again in 2021. For anyone age 50 and over, it’s a great opportunity to test your mettle or even just try a new sport. Heck, you might even take home the gold for just having the fortitude to give it a go.