Her dad went to the Olympics for Nordic skiing in 1976 and 1980, and now she hopes to do the same as a member of the US Biathlon team. Despite having skied much of her life, Susan Dunklee didn’t find the sport of biathlon until an ID camp during her senior year at Dartmouth. Once she had discovered the sport, she embraced it.
As we do what we do, whether it be the daily routine or our ultimate opus, we do it with a personal understanding or philosophy. Susan has a one-word mantra for both how she lives and how she pursues her Olympic goal: balance.
It is no coincidence that balance was a constant theme in the instructional Nordic ski video I borrowed from the Center. For skiing, you need literal balance as you shift your weight from ski to ski, but also, you need it in a figurative sense since the sport engages so many opposing forces like pushing and gliding, stretching and contracting, etc. Being a biathlete, Susan naturally faces these fundamental issues of balance. However, this is only the tip of the balance iceberg for Susan.
As her dad, Stan Dunklee, told me upon visiting their family’s veterinary practice in Barton, the difference between what he did (Nordic skiing) and what Susan does (biathlon) is that if she skis until she’s seeing red, she loses. For him, competing in the Olympics was a simpler matter of “go,” which is still far from an easy charge. Biathlon is an amazingly delicate balance of both athleticism and skill. In one continual competition, you must use two systems that work in direct opposition to each other. You push yourself aerobically while skiing, while also calling upon all your hand-eye coordination, concentration, and patience to shoot. As Susan explained it, you can’t be seeing spots when you pull into a range because the only spots you want to see are the targets 50 meters away. You have to try to control your breath and relax as your heart beats 180 times a minute, and you aim at a dot that looks like the head of a needle. While Susan’s dad, an Olympian, cannot imagine moderating his exertion, it is something that Susan has learned to embrace in order to succeed. With the start of this 2012-2013 season, Susan’s skiing picked up right where she left off, but she is still settling into her balance as her shooting gets it to where she would like it to be.
Her quest for balance doesn’t stop there. The day after graduating from Dartmouth Susan had the opportunity to start up residency at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid. She lived there for a while in what would often be thought of as an athlete’s Garden of Eden with doctors, endless equipment, a bountiful cafeteria, sport medicine at your fingertips, your every athletic wish come true. Despite being grateful for all these advantages and perks, Susan still found herself out of balance. Hence, why GRP is fortunate enough to have as part of our team. While an OTC yields many advantages, it lacked the “peripherals” that Susan sees as vital to her success. As mentioned in Lynn’s limelight, there are many different types of athletes. Sure, when you boil athletes down, there’s a certain set of requirements like a base level of dedication, certain amount of persistence, and “more concretely” x hours spent training. However, people train different ways and dedicate themselves to different degrees and at different angles. Look at Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson. Both champions, both very different. For Susan, having a life that is balanced with activity both inside and outside of her sport is important for her, and the Craftsbury Outdoor Center made this balance possible. Susan put it best by saying, “Sports do not always go well. You have good days and bad days. You’ll have injuries. You need something to help maintain perspective. You need an outlet or you’ll get stuck in your own head.” While training at Craftsbury and moving herself forward, she has also coached everyone from BKL skiers to GRP rowers on how to shoot for biathlons as well as participating in a plethora of other projects around the Center.
To pull a quote from the seemingly unrelated world of hip-hop, Akrobatik raps, “maintain balance and you won’t fall off.” Seems obvious especially in the balance beam sense. It also holds true for your efforts, your sanity, and your soul. Susan’s emphasis on balance is not only what yields her success in sport, but also in life as it keeps her on an even keel through trials and tribulations. If you know yourself, then you’ll know no bounds.