Yungblut hangs up skis, rifle after years as national biathlete - May 16, 2019
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
After 11 years of skiing, seven of those as a world-class biathlete, Huron County native Erin Yungblut is hanging up her skis and rifle and moving into the next phase of her life.
The former F.E. Madill Secondary School student has lived in Canmore, Alberta since her late teens. She first competed as a member of the Canadian Junior team and then, when she was 21, raced on the Canadian International Biathlon IBU (International Biathlon Union) Cup Team, as well as on the World Cup Team and at multiple European and World Junior Championships.
This year, however, Yungblut, now 25, felt the flame of competition that has driven her over the past 10 years begin to flicker. Yungblut had always promised herself she would move on if that ever happened.
In an interview with The Citizen, Yungblut said that when she last competed, she knew when she crossed the finish line that the passion she held for biathlon simply wasn’t there any longer. She said she knew she could continue to push her body and her determination could potentially carry her through to further success, but that she just didn’t have the burning fire she needed to live the elite athlete lifestyle any longer – that passion, and an aerobic engine, were her biggest assets as an elite athlete.
This comes at the end of a decorated 10-year career that began in Wingham at F.E. Madill and took Yungblut all over the world to compete and train.
10 GREAT YEARS
Yungblut was considered a latecomer to the sport. She began skiing at 14 after spending her childhood figure skating and distance running, whereas most skiers and biathletes are practically born on skis with a rifle in their hands, according to Yungblut, starting on the snow before they’re in school.
However, when she started she immediately took to the sport and her coaches saw her talent. It wasn’t long after her first year that she was training in Collingwood and caught the eye of the Canadian Junior national team. She then moved to Canmore at 18 to further develop at the National Development Centre for Biathlon, and later with the Rocky Mountain Racers elite ski team.
Yungblut says that while she took to skiing rather immediately, it was when she first picked up a rifle that her passion for biathlon specifically truly ignited.
Before heading west, when she was still training in Ontario, Yungblut said she largely taught herself to shoot, working away at a coach’s home in the forests near Duntroon, running around on snowshoes and shooting at targets stapled to trees.
It was that guerilla training that really honed her skills for the formal competitions to come.
When she moved to Canmore, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, she began competing as a member of the Canadian Junior national team. When she turned 21, she was racing full-time on the IBU Cup Team, frequently on the cusp of racing full-time on the World Cup and Olympic team. Though still an extremely high level of competition, racing the top 150 biathletes in the world, Yungblut said she couldn’t quite seem to make it over the hump for one reason or another.
Through competing and training with these teams, Yungblut was able to travel all over the world for competitions or training opportunities. During her time as an international biathlete, she made her way to places such as Italy, Germany, Poland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and all through Canada and the United States, amongst other nations.
While she said that she appreciated the beauty and culture of many of the European countries she’s visited, especially Italy and Austria, she truly valued being able to compete in international competitions in North America where the sport isn’t nearly as popular as it is in Europe – biathlon is actually the second-most televised sport in the world, after soccer, and European biathlon stars are like NHL stars in Canada.
Yungblut said she loved the people, the food and coffee of places like Italy and Austria and the enthusiasm of the often inebriated fans in Germany, but that nothing beat the beauty of competing or training in locations like the Rocky Mountains or Utah, Maine or closer to home.
During that time, however, living the life of an elite athlete truly took its toll on Yungblut, both physically and emotionally.
While she had to contend with many injuries like any other athlete, including a severely dislocated shoulder in Italy in the winter of 2017/2018, resulting in surgery that February, it was the havoc training wreaked on her hormonal balance that was truly the toughest to overcome.
Yungblut said that whether it was the extreme physical demands (biathletes train many hours annually – a high-volume sport) or the restrictive diet, the regimented training associated with being a world-class biathlete threw her hormones out of balance and led to issues with her thyroid as well as amenorrhea, which still require monitoring to this day.
While those issues made day-to-day life tough for Yungblut, she said they didn’t factor into her decision to retire.
Yungblut also said that she desperately wanted to leave the sport while she still loved it. If she held on longer, knowing that wasn’t what she wanted to do, she felt she might grow to resent it, which would be unfortunate after 10 years of love for biathlon.
Not only was it her love for the sport that kept her going, but she says that she’ll be eternally grateful for the support she’s received over the years. Whether it was from local sponsors, both in Alberta and in Huron County, family or friends, Yungblut says she couldn’t have chased her dream and reached so many of her goals without them.
While she acknowledged that biathletes often peak later than most athletes (between 30-35), she still felt like it was the right time to walk away and life was pulling her more strongly in other directions.
For the immediate future, however, Yungblut won’t be straying far from her roots in the sport, as her next project will be a coaching position in Australia, working with the country’s international ski team throughout July and August (winter for Australia). She said that while she’ll technically be coaching, the program is more about connecting elite athletes with the team to train alongside them and she’s excited to take on that challenge.
In Australia, there is a 42-kilometre cross-country ski race called the Kangaroo Hoppet, set for Aug. 24 this year, and Yungblut plans on taking part. When she crosses that finish line, she said, she’ll officially be retired.
During her time in Australia, she plans on spending time with friends and enjoying some time to herself, both of which were in short supply during her training days. While she will still work towards the Hoppet, that schedule will be casual compared to her training in Canmore.
FAST AND FEMALE
While in Australia, Yungblut will continue to work with Fast and Female, a charity she’s worked with for a number of years. Yungblut works remotely, managing the charity’s media and communications. She was first involved with the charity as a youth participant, then as an ambassador and now as an employee.
As a teen, Yungblut said she had the opportunity to ski with a national skier through Fast and Female and she experienced firsthand what that type of interaction could mean to a young female athlete.
The organization, which was founded by two Olympic gold medalists, Canada’s Chandra Crawford and Kikkan Randall of the U.S., aims to empower young girls through sport and keep them healthy and active for life.
Yungblut said the organization believes that “you can’t be what you can’t see”, so it aspires to connect young girls with elite-level athletes to inspire and encourage them through sport.
After moving to Alberta, Yungblut was brought on by the organization as one of its ambassadors before working for its communications department. Yungblut said that while it was tiring at the time to need a part-time job to support herself as an athlete, always being just under the threshold for funding, she’s glad she spent time in the working world, learning all that it had to offer.
Working with Fast and Female, she said, was an ideal job for her, which is why she hopes to continue with the organization in Australia.
After her time in Australia, Yungblut said she hopes to return to the business of finishing off her degree from Royal Roads University on Vancouver Island. She’ll officially be back in school next spring with the hopes of graduating in 2022. At that point not only does she hope to have a degree in her hand, but she also hopes to have brushed up on both her French and Spanish to improve her job prospects as she enters the working world.
The path in front of Yungblut is now wide open and full of possibility and she said she’s eager to see where she’ll end up in the coming years.