Bringing Life Experience to Biathlon: Sara Studebaker-Hall

Athlete, coach, program leader, NCAA team champion, two-time Olympian. Idaho native Sara Studebaker-Hall has spent her life in winter sport. This past March she took on the role of US Biathlon’s director of operations. A few weeks later, she and her colleagues were deep in management of how to get the US Biathlon Team home from Finland whe COVID-19 travel restrictions broke out. Sara’s vast knowledge of and passion for biathlon is telling. In this insightful Heartbeat podcast, she recounts her pathway into biathlon and how she progressed. She tells an emotional story of making a pact with teammates to make the Olympic Team together. And she smiles as she talks about raising young son August just a few kilometers from the Olympic trails of Soldier Hollow. As operations director for US Biathlon, she makes it all run smoothly. And she also helps tell the story of the sport. “Communications is key.” Her in-depth conversation with Heartbeat host Tom Kelly will take you inside the world of biathlon to learn what Sara brings to the team and to clubs around the country.

Athlete, coach, program leader, NCAA team champion, two-time Olympian. Idaho native Sara Studebaker-Hall has spent her life in winter sport. This past February she took on the role of US Biathlon’s director of operations. A few weeks later, she and her colleagues were deep in management of how to get the US Biathlon Team home from Finland when COVID-19 travel restrictions broke out. Sara’s vast knowledge of and passion for biathlon is telling. In this insightful Heartbeat podcast, she recounts her pathway into biathlon and how she progressed. She tells an emotional story of making a pact with teammates to make the Olympic Team together. And she smiles as she talks about raising young son August just a few kilometers from the Olympic trails of Soldier Hollow. As operations director for US Biathlon, she makes it all run smoothly. And she also helps tell the story of the sport. “Communications is key.” Her in-depth conversation with Heartbeat host Tom Kelly will take you inside the world of biathlon to learn what Sara brings to the team and to clubs around the country.

TRANSCRIPT
Tom Kelly: Biathlon is a unique Olympic event. It challenges participants with opposing athletic endeavors in a singular competition. It combines the heart pumping aerobic aspects of cross country skiing match with the intense focus of precision marksmanship - two diametrically opposing forces testing every ounce of physical and mental strength of athletes. Welcome to HEARTBEAT, he U.S. Biathlon Podcast. I'm your host, Tom Kelly, and I'm proud to bring you regular insights into this fascinating Olympic sport. We hope you enjoyed our debut podcast with world championship medallist Susan Dunklee. Today, we'll take a look inside the operations of U.S. biathlon and the support it provides to athletes in clubs across the country. Our guest today is a veteran athlete and a two time Olympian. After her retirement in 2014, she expanded her role in the sport as a coach, club leader and an athlete representative. Sara Studebaker-Hall is an Idaho native who spent seven years on the U.S. Biathlon Team competing in both the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Winter Games while at Dartmouth College. She was on the 2007 NCAA champion team. She went on to coach at the University of Alaska-Anchorage and Soldier Hollow. She has served on the U.S. biathlon board and as an athlete representative to the USO Pieces Athletes Advisory Council. This past January, she was named director of operations for U.S. biathlon, making her home not far from the Olympic venue in Soldier Hollow with husband Zach Hall and their young son, August. Sara, welcome and thanks for joining us on HEARTBEAT.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Thanks, Tom, it's great to be here.

Tom Kelly: So what has your pandemic life been like down in Midway, Utah?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: You know, I feel pretty lucky overall, we are in a relatively rural area. We've been able to get outside. My husband and I have both been working from home. And so kind of switching off who's watching August and who's working. So it's definitely has its challenges. I'm currently joining you from a closet. So, you know, we're all just doing what we can. But in general, you know, we we've been healthy. We stay in staying active. And so I can't complain too much.

Tom Kelly: Well, then I won't ask you what the view is like from the closet.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: No.

Tom Kelly: It it it is a pretty amazing place, though, isn't it? Just a great spirit of sport down there and a beautiful mountain setting.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Oh, absolutely. You know, we when we moved to Heber, our experience there had really been as athletes and and we hadn't had a lot of experiences recently. So, you know, we moved there three years ago and saw the venue really starting to come alive with the planned return of the World Cup in it to Soldier Hollow. And it's been a really exciting time to be there. And the community has been really welcoming. And, you know, we love. I love being back in the Mountain West. So that's definitely exciting for me. And, yeah, it's it's been it's been really great.

Tom Kelly: Now, Sara, I know that when you took on this new role as director of operations from for U.S. Biathlon, you probably had these grand ideas and the things that you were going to do on day one to put things in motion. But the pandemic really changed your role when you started in February, didn't it?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: It really did. Yeah, I think I was at work for about two weeks when things really started to get shut down. And, you know, in some ways I was lucky. I was already working from home. My position is remote. So I'm still based in Heber in Utah, where the headquarters are back in Maine. So it gives us some geographic diversity with an organization, which I think is a really positive, but it's definitely suddenly became a very different situation for all of us within the organization. I mean, you know, right away, when the president made his speech about closing the borders and we were thrown into how do we get the athletes back immediately from Finland? Yeah, things have just been taking everything and every decision day by day, week by week as we move through planning and and all aspects of the U.S. Biathlon.

Tom Kelly: You know, I think most people don't realize how unique this situation is. There is no playbook. There are no guidelines that you started out with on how do I handle a team in a pandemic. So you guys have really been inventing things with good background knowledge as you go along.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah, absolutely. You know, we have a really great team. I think that the one thing that this has really forced us to do is communicate even better with each other. And so we've been, I think, doing a really good job as a staff of staying connected and making sure that everybody knows what's going on as things continue to change every day. There was a while, where things were changing every hour. I mean, I was sending updates every morning and every evening to the whole staff about what the State Department and the CDC were saying about the situation, both domestic and abroad. And, you know, now it's a little bit it's a little bit easier for us because we are out of season. So, you know, we're planning camps and Tim and law are definitely working with the brunt of that aspect. But even as we plan board meetings and think about the season ahead, there's so many unknowns and and really having to create a number of different plans, depending on what might happen, is definitely a challenge.

Tom Kelly: Sara, let's go back into your background, and one of the things that I always like to explore with biathletes is how did you get started in the sport? This is such a unique activity and everyone has this slightly different pathway. But what was it for you that got you into the sport of biathlon?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah, you know, I started skiing really young, my family was always really involved in the outdoors and skiing was a big part of our of our family actually started as an alpine ski racer. Thought I would go that direction, but was introduced to the bogus base and Nordic team when I was in sixth grade and started doing cross-country and really loved it. I just started doing that as my main sport. And I had a coach, Eric Reynolds, who had done some biathlon, and he a friend of a friend of mine on the team. And I saw a little blurb in the 98 Olympics about biathlon and just started asking him a ton of questions about the sport. And he ended up actually doing some research and finding and development camp for for her and I. In Lake Placid. And so we went there that summer and really got a crash course in biathlon. And I was hooked and really started doing as much biathlon as I could. I mean, we didn't have a range in Boise, so we would go out to the desert and shoot when we when we had the opportunity and go to go to some races as we were able. You know, I really focused on on Nordic skiing and doing barthe on when I could because I really loved it. But I didn't have as many opportunities in high school as a as I maybe wanted to just because of where I lived in. But then graduating from from college actually took a little bit of a break and went to Dartmouth. And when I graduated, U.S. blacklists starting their development program. And so I was invited over to to join that program in Lake Placid. And, you know, when you're leaving college and someone's offering you a free room and board, it sounds pretty great. So I went over there and, you know, pretty much as they say, I guess the rest is history. It was it was a great, great opportunity for me.

Tom Kelly: Sara, going back to you as a young girl, did you have any experience shooting at all or was this your first introduction to the marksmanship aspect of biathlon?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: I had no experience shooting - it was totally, totally new to me when I started biathlon and, you know, I remember some of my family friends questioning, oh, you're going to do a sport with a firearm. That's so strange. And, you know, it's definitely very foreign to me. But but I loved it. I love the mental aspect of biathlon. I think, you know, Nordic skiing is awesome. And I loved competing as a as a Nordic athlete. But barf on just brings that extra element of having to calm your mind, having to completely switch gears and focus on shooting in the middle of an intense aerobic effort - I just loved. And I and I think it worked well for me and my personality.

Tom Kelly: You were a part of a very strong program at Dartmouth on the cross country team. What did you take away from that experience and being side by side with some really great athletes? 

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah, it was a it was a pretty cool time to be at Dartmouth and, you know, that program is is so strong, has been and continues to be. And I think that the biggest thing that I learned as part of that team was that the team is so important. And having that strong team, even though we were Alpine and Nordic men and women, was why we were successful and really supporting each other and and going into the race, even though it was an individual race, knowing that you were racing for everybody on your team was, I think, a huge part of our success and continued to be something that really I brought into my career as a as a biathlete after college.

Tom Kelly: Three years after that NCAA title, you were walking into the stadium in Vancouver as an Olympian. Great feeling, isn't it?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: It was pretty cool for sure - definitely a lifelong dream that I was. I was pretty excited to have it come true.

Tom Kelly: So athletes take many different paths after their athletic period. You chose to go in to a different phase of the sport as a coach and a program leader. What motivated you to make that decision to stay in the sport and to give back?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: I feel really lucky about my career because I was able to choose when I was done in 2014, I knew going into the season that that would be my last season and I was really able to achieve the goals that I wanted to achieve. And, you know, not luckily not have any major injuries in my career and be able to decide when I wanted to to stop being a competitive athlete. And I recognize that that was you know, it's not the path that everybody gets, unfortunately. And I was really lucky in that. But that said, I still love the sport. And I knew that I wanted to stay involved somehow and not, you know, not compete and be done competing, but really stay involved. And I always really enjoyed mentoring the next generation. So it was really natural for me to move into a coaching role. And I was I was really excited to have the opportunity to to start that with the University of Alaska, Anchorage and being their assistant coach there really taught me a lot just about coaching in general and and also gave me some freedom in the summer as we we weren't we weren't working. We didn't have athletes on campus. So I was able to help a lot with the biathlon program up there as well. And, you know, it was it was a really awesome introduction to coaching for me to be part of that program.

Tom Kelly: Was your experience there specific to biathlon or were you a cross country coach as well?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: At the University of Alaska, Anchorage, I was the cross country assistant coach for their program, and then I would help out really unofficially, my husband, Zach, was running the biathlon program up in Alaska, up in Anchorage. And so I would help him out when I was able to, mostly in the summers and and a little bit in the winter, depending on our training schedule. But that was a great opportunity for me to really see what was going on in development, in biathlon and, you know, to to learn more about coaching through my work with the university, but to learn more about biathlon development in the U.S. from his role as.

Tom Kelly: Were you and Zach able to influence the culture of biathlon up there in Alaska?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: I hope so. I know it was a really cool time to be up there because, you know, cross country skiing in Alaska is huge. And it was really fun for me to see the whole community up there really embracing Nordic sports. And and biathlon is really coming on strong. You know, the time that we were we spent up there, there were several people, several kids. It started to make World Junior teens. And the program continues to be really strong to this day. So I think that, you know, we left a mark and we left it better than we found it. And the coaches that are up there now are really doing a great job and taking advantage of the awesome cross-country skiing that's up there and and the support for the Nordic sports. So, you know, I think that that there definitely is a lot of good stuff coming out of Alaska right now.

Tom Kelly: And then what created the opportunity for you to move down to Utah and get a role with the Soldier Hollow venue?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: So I think that maybe I'm not sure if it was on purpose or an accident. Max Cobb tried to really set this up, but I was the athlete rep for biathlon. I was at a USOPC event and sat next to Colin Hilton, who is the CEO of the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, which manages Soldier Hollow. And he was telling me that they were trying to get a biathlon program started there. And just recently, the funding for for my husband for Zach's program up in Alaska had had stopped. And so he was looking for work and trying to figure out how to continue being involved in biathlon. And so, I said, you know, I might know a coach for you. And he got in touch and and, yeah, we ended up moving down - actually Zach moved down that December. That was in September. And Zach moved to Utah in December. And I followed in May when my contract was up with the University of Alaska. So it was kind of happenstance. Right place. Right time. Great opportunities for for everyone involved. I think.

Tom Kelly: You know, you guys actually came at a fortuitous time as biathlon was really making a resurgence here. What was it like being able to be involved with a program like that and a little bit from just the the ground up and building it?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah, it's it was really cool. You know, Zach had kind of started at least part of the biathlon program up and up in Anchorage, and so we had a little experience with that for us. We were walking into Team Soldier Hollow, which had been around for for many years. And Scott Peterson was an awesome coach for them several years ago and continues to be involved with the with the venue. And but they were they at a place where they were really ready for the next step and they needed a professional coach and they were ready to start a biathlon program. We had just been awarded the World Cup for 2019. And there was a lot of work to do for sure. But the community and the team was really hungry for that. And so it was it was great. It was a lot of work for sure, especially those first couple of years getting ready for a World Cup and getting the team off the ground on the biathlon side and and and bringing in coaching staff and making some changes that were that were subtle but were were what the the team and the venue needed. I think it was it's it's been a really cool process to watch and to watch the venue really come alive and grow and come back to the the glory that I remember seeing there in 2002. So it's been really exciting and really fun to be a part of.

Tom Kelly: That World Cup in February of 2019 was a remarkable event. I know that the fans who watched it on television or came to the venue were excited about it, but probably didn't realize all of the work that went into making that happen. And you were right in the middle of that for a period of a few years leading up to that event.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yes. So, you know, in addition to just being on venue and being, you know, one of the people who knew the most about World Cups, we were definitely really, really involved. I was the assistant chief of competition for the event itself, but also really involved in the lead up. We had a couple of site visits in the year leading up to the event. And just, you know, multiple things getting ready for for everything that needed to happen between volunteers, getting the targets rehabbed, getting the courses, making sure that they were good and approved by iView and bringing in officials from outside, we had a great team that came in and helped us and led by Tracy Lamb, who is our chief of comp for the week. And man, it was it was a lot of work, but it was so magical. I remember standing standing in the stadium and watching the first starter go off of that first race and thinking we did it. It's going. It's happening. This is the great.

Tom Kelly: First for me, one of the most poignant moments, though, was watching you and Danica and some of the other coaches with these kids from clubs around the country who were able to see the best in the world competing right here in the USA.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Oh, yeah. It was awesome, you know, when we had just started our biathlon program two years prior and getting to have the kids there and Tim and Danica leading a camp for for those kids to to be there and just watch and just see all of these athletes really compete at their best. And see that what is the level of World Cup biathlon and really dream big, because I think when you see it, especially as a young athlete, you get to see that you can you can feel what that should be like for you. And and you can really dream about that in in color, you know, to so to speak, because you've you've seen it.

Tom Kelly: It's been interesting over the last few years to see the buzz that has been created over U.S. biathlon, some great international results, a freshness and and a look to the future. Can you describe a little bit about what's been going on in the sport over the last maybe three, four, five years that's created this really positive wave of enthusiasm for biathlon in America?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah, you know, I think a nordic sports in general in our country are really experiencing a lot of a lot of success. I think that, you know, fortunately or unfortunately, success begets success and begets press coverage as well. We've been super lucky to have the talents of people like Lyle and Susan, who have won World Championship medals and to have them be able to inspire the the younger generation behind them. You know, Susan's especially been really great about getting involved in her local community and with law on board. Now, as our high performance director, I think that the understanding of what it takes to to get to that level is becoming more tangible for people. And to see someone especially like, you know, like Susan or Lowell, where kids know, 'hey, that person came out of my program and they're not so different from me, I could do that.' And, you know, I think that I've heard I've heard many of the athletes, people who are on the national team, people who are on the junior national team, juniors in clubs who say things like that, like, yeah, you know, I know that person and they're not so special. I could do that. And I think that's such a great thing to hear to to see that that people are really recognizing that it's a lot of work, but it's not unattainable. And these people aren't so different from any of the juniors that are that are working now or the people on the national team or the development team.

Tom Kelly: Sara, you've touched on this a little bit, but I want to explore this a little bit further. The evolution of the staff right now, in particular with Lowell, a world champion, Lowell Bailey coming in to take over high performance. Tim Burke, longtime team member and yourself. Can you walk us through the individual roles that each of you play in U.S. Biathlon today?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yes. so myself, I just started as our director of operations, and that's a new position for us. We've never had anyone fill this role. So it's definitely a little bit of a moving target in some respects, especially with the current situation. But my role is really at the heart to help us with our fundraising, to help us with our marketing or social media and to generally kind of help connect the staff and make sure that we're we're talking and we're meeting regularly and we all know what our respective jobs are and who's in charge of what. So that things don't fall through the cracks and and, you know, take some of that pressure off of Max, especially because he's really busy with his roles in biathlon. With IBU, NGB Council, everything he's got going on. I think my role is really to try to help. Keep things going on the home front. And then, you know, yeah, like you said, Lowell being World Champion coming in last year to replace Bernd too. Bernd did such a great job of setting the tone for high performance in this country. And I think that law really recognizes all the work that he did and obviously benefited hugely from that. And I think that having someone home grown. In that position is extremely important. Having someone who knows the American system in an out in law started in the club system, he came through, went to University of Vermont, went onto the national team, was part of the junior national team when he was younger. So he knows all of those aspects and I think is going to be so great to have and is already proven to be such an asset to us.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: And I'm really excited to be working with him. And Tim, similarly, you know, he's leading up our development side. He's our director of athlete development. I think he has seen a lot of things that have been tried over the years from junior national team to know Drew national team to trying to revitalize the clubs and I think has seen some of the best of each of those aspects. And so having him there to really lead that and Danica's role is really helping him in that development piece and and taking on a little bit more of the education part, helping to make sure that our coaches are are getting the education that they need, that we bring up the level of coaching in this country and that we're better able to serve, especially the clubs in in the US and and allow them to be really feeder's for for our development and national teams. I think, you know, the fact that are the core of our team is now American and has experience at all the different levels of development in this country is so positive. And we all bring a lot to the table. And the fact that we've worked together as athletes definitely doesn't hurt. I think we understand each other. We understand where we where we're all coming from and and who might have the best answer to different questions, regardless of of our job title and.

Tom Kelly: One of the other aspects I find fascinating with the program is that the organization is actually based in Maine, and Maine has been a great supporter of biathlon over the years. But now you have a notable footprint at both the Olympic sites in Lake Placid and in Salt Lake City, namely Soldier Hollow. How is that a real asset for you as you work with aspiring by athletes around the country?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah, I think it's really important, you know, it's it's important to look at our country on a map compared to our European friends because our country is giants. You know, you think about a country like Germany that is, you know, they're able to have a really centrally located high performance Team and national team and and never be more than two, three hours from the rest of their clubs. And we don't have that. You have to jump on an airplane or drive for five days and get across the country. So I think, you know, being able to be on the ground and understand what's different in the west from the east and what's different in Lake Placid from northern Maine, for example, I think is is super helpful for us and for us both on to have the ability to have face time with our clubs and different regions is is truly important to be able to have, you know, me out West and and Tim and Leland Dannica and Lake Placid and easily able to get to a lot of those Eastern clubs, I think is is really just going to be positive for us and for our relationship with our clubs and for us being able to deliver what kind of help the clubs need and and whether that's different from what the clubs in the Eastern with the clubs in the West need, you know, remains to be seen a little bit. But we're in. We're well positioned to better understand that now.

Tom Kelly: Let's talk about those clubs and the parents and the athletes who comprise them around the country. What are the things that they're looking for as young athletes and parents of young athletes that U.S. biathlon can support them with?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah. You know, I think that when you're when you're in a club and and you're starting out as an athlete, I think you really want to look for opportunities. And that was something that I definitely thought about through my career. I mean, the reason that I went to college, rather than focusing on biathlon or cross-country outside of school, was that I knew that was the best avenue at that moment for me. And I think providing multiple avenues and multiple opportunities for kids to stay involved in sport is really what we're identifying as as a big hang up for us. You know, I think when kids graduate from high school being able to have these postgraduate programs that they can jump into if they're ready for that or being able to have partnerships with colleges, that they can go to school and do biathlon or at least, you know, agreements with and double aid programs where kids can go and and get better at skiing and then return, you know, through a development pipeline or these talent identification programs that Tim has really been leading up to try to bring collegiate athletes who are great skiers over to biathlon after their collegiate careers. I think recognizing there's multiple entry points where we can both gain and lose athletes and making sure that we're providing opportunities for those people at all those different levels is is really important.

Tom Kelly: To that point, how important was that partnership that U.S. Biathlon announced earlier this year with Paul Smith's college?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah, that's such an awesome opportunity for us and for the athletes, you know, for me coming from the club environment and you know, we've got two kids that were involved in Team Soldier Hollo that are now going to be going to Paul Smith's. I mean, just to be able to go to school and pursue your athletic goals at the same time is such an awesome situation. And we've never had that with biathlon. You know, it's not an NCAA sport. So creating this partnership is has been a lot of work from Max and from Tim especially to make sure that it it can be the right fit. But I think being able to provide that opportunity to the athletes is is huge and and to the parents as well. I mean, no parent wants to just forget about education because, you know, you're not you're not going to be an athlete forever and you're not going to be able to just ride your athletic career. Let's let's face it. You know, we don't earn a ton of money as athletes in this country. And, you know, we're lucky if we earn any. So I think, you know, making sure that people have opportunities to get that education so that they can go off to whatever their second life is going to be after sport is is important. And we really want to make sure that we're focusing on not just an athlete's athletic career, but their career as a whole person. And, you know, I think we do a disservice to athletes if we don't think about them as as having a life and a world after and outside of athletics.

Tom Kelly: You know, when they're athletes, that's the most formative time of their lives, so you really have to pay attention to that whole person as you men. As you mentioned.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah, absolutely, and, you know, it's it's definitely something that I know that the the Olympic Paralympic movement as a whole is really focusing on now. And and I think I'm really proud to be a part of that. And, you know, from the club world to up to the operations worldwide with U.S. Biathlon, I know that everybody is really thinking about that. And we have really great coaches and really great clubs out there. And they just, you know, will benefit so much from the resources that at the higher level we're able to provide.

Tom Kelly: One of the things, too, that has struck me with biathlon is looking at kind of the family atmosphere. Everyone is a part of the family, whether you're a partner like Ariens or Maloja or you're a club or the staff for the athletes. Everybody truly does work together.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Oh, yeah, I. It's my favorite thing about. You know, and I'm sure that if I were as deep in another sport as I am and biathlon, I would I would think maybe similarly. But, you know, we biathlon is my experience. And the community, the family that that is us laugh on an international laugh on is is amazing. And it's it's so fun to work in an atmosphere where, you know, that everybody is really after the same thing and we're all here, you know, not because of the paycheck or anything else then that we love it. We truly, truly love it. And we'll work really hard and do things that are not technically our jobs just to see it succeed.

Tom Kelly: Is this unique to America or is this something that's ingrained in biathlon worldwide?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: You know, that's that's a really good question. I don't know. I'm sure that there's that there are places around the world that would say the same. I'd like to think that we're a little bit unique here in the U.S. because on isn't as popular of a sport. It's a little bit easier to to think about loving and being passionate about something that is widely televised and well known and well understood like it is in Europe. But in the US, it's it's this pretty small sample size and pretty crazy sport for most people. And we have a huge section of our country that doesn't even get any snow, has no biathlon ranges, has no idea what we're doing. And I think that makes it just a little bit extra special.

Tom Kelly: Let's go back to something we talked about early on before we close here. What got you into biathlon? And we talk a lot about the sport, the heart pumping, aerobic activity of cross-country and the precision of the marksmanship in your mind, what describe what that means to you. What it meant to you as an athlete. What it means to you as a program leader today.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: And putting that into words is super hard. I think that the thing that I always think about when I think about putting everything together is standing on a start line. And for me, the line I always go back to as Vancouver, the individual race. And I was bib number one, and I had never been the number one I'd raced in like, you know, three or four World Cups to that point. And it was crazy to me to have to start an Olympic race. But it was so cool. And to stand on the start line and see all the people watching me see myself on the big screen knowing that I was being broadcast around the world and start and hear everybody cheer. I think to me that's like everything coming together and realizing that you do this crazy sport and you roller ski in the rain and you do strength workouts when no one's watching and you try to encourage other people to join this crazy thing and then you make it there. And it's not necessarily about how it plays out, but just the fact that you you got there and, you know, you worked hard and that there's a lot of people that also worked hard to help get you there. I think is is just that special to me.

Tom Kelly: It's a great sport and Sara, we appreciate you sharing your time today. We're going to close this out with a traditional lightning round, which I am calling On Target to close the HEARTBEAT podcast from U.S. Biathlon. Don't worry, it's hits, not judged. There's nothing tricky. It's really simple stuff. So we're going to start it out with your role model.

Tom Kelly: As an aspiring young athlete, who is your role model?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Role model. You know, Miriam, Bedard really comes to mind, the Canadian biathlete.

Tom Kelly: Next up, your favorite biathlon venue around the world.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: I love Pokljuka. It's definitely yeah, Pokljuka is my favorite for sure.

Tom Kelly: Tell us about that.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: It is so Pokljuka, Slovenia is going to be the site of the World Championships for the coming year. It's up in the mountains. You stay down in Bled, which is the most beautiful town. I think it's right on the on the water. And when I went there, we were always there right before Christmas. So the atmosphere in the town was very festive and it was really fun. And you got to, like, go up in the hills and compete and then come down and feel like you were part of a community and a town that's right there. Yeah. I just have such good memories there. I never had great races there actually had some of my worst races there. But it was a it was such a great venue and I really enjoyed racing there.

Tom Kelly: Slovenia is an amazing place, isn't it?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah, it's it's really fun to be able to visit that part of the world.

Tom Kelly: Sara, you live in a truly wonderful place. What's the most fun thing that you and Zach do with your son? August.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: You know, right now, just going on walks, he is learning so many words every day. And you know quarantine life has us a little bit stir crazy sometimes. So going on walks and seeing the just small things that he points out, the birds flying the bird's nest, the trucks, the tractors, the cows, you know, everything he is so excited about and reminding you that, you know, the world is a pretty exciting place and even the mundane is is pretty cool if you're too.

Tom Kelly: Yeah. Through the eyes of a two year old. Everything looks bigger. When you're on a training run or a ski, what's on your playlist?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: You know, I love some Taylor Swift, I got to say that I have a lot of Taylor Swift on my on my iPod.

Tom Kelly: Not bad tunes to listen to. OK. Your biggest pandemic challenge this spring, either work or home.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: You know, I think just juggling life with a two year old. I think that's been the hugest challenge in, you know, trying to provide him the right opportunities. And in an in time when we can't get together with other people and, you know, feel like you're doing enough. And, you know, both near your home life and your professional life, it's definitely been a challenge. I'm a little bit of a perfectionist. And having to let go of a few things has been definitely my biggest challenge.

Tom Kelly: It's a relief when you do let go of a few things when you are a perfectionist. I can tell you.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Yeah, and, you know, we I'm really lucky because I think our organization, Max, is really led by by example of allowing us to realize that this is not a normal situation and we need to be a little bit. We need to give ourselves a little bit of credit. So I appreciate that for sure.

Tom Kelly: Biggest thrill as an athlete.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: You know? I mean, man, it was awesome to make two Olympic Games. But my favorite? I'm going to change your question a little bit, because I think my favorite moment,

Tom Kelly: That's OK.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: My favorite moment as an athlete was in Nova Mesto in the 2013 World Championships. And after the relay, Hannah , Annelies Cook and Susan Dunklee and I all went out and cooled down together and we decided, you know, we're gonna support each other in getting to 2014 and we're going to do it together and making that decision as a team and and feeling like we were, you know, while we were going to compete against each other, so to speak, for those spots on that team that we were going to compete against each other together was was so, so enormous and I think helped us to be successful as a group. And, yeah, that's that's my favorite. My favorite moment and my biggest thrill. Just realizing that through the support of of our team that we could we could be successful in and get through, you know, one more season of rainy roller skis and get to our goals.

Tom Kelly: So I've got I've got a change that a little bit on, you can come back and ask you your biggest thrill as a coach.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: All right. Yeah. You know, that's that's that's pretty easy, actually, this year. I had two people make the junior national team who had never made it before. So we're in the intermountain region for cross-country. And I had two girls who made, you know, nationals and they had made it their goal. One of them in particular has had had some some challenges and some personal challenges that she had to get over. And and they both made the team. And and I had never I've never been prouder. You know, I was like crying when they announced the team because I was so proud of them. And it was a cool feeling to feel like, you know, I helped them get there, but I didn't do it. They did the work and they did it. They believed in themselves. And to just be like a bystander and a support for that was the shining moment of my coaching career for sure.

Tom Kelly: Great feeling, isn't it?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: It was great.

Tom Kelly: Ok. We're down to the homestretch, two more questions. Sara, you have been around the world. You've been to two Olympics. You've won an NC double a championship. You've been to countless World Cups and world championships. What one tip would you give to a young aspiring biathlete?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Pace yourself. And be patient. I think, you know, I went to I was in a I was in a development pipeline when I was younger and we'd go to these leet camps and people would lay out the plan. First you make this team and then you make this team, and then you'll make this team and pay. Then you get to stand on the top of an Olympic podium. And it did not happen that way for me. And I'm I'm really glad for the path that I took. It was this little circuitous at times. And, you know, when I when I made my first Olympic team, I had like I said, I'd competed in, I think four four World Cups. And and, you know, I didn't know what to expect going into the Olympics and I wouldn't have it any other way. It was it took me time and it took me a weird path that people would never have been able to point out for me. But it worked. And so I think being patient and and following your God and remaining persistence is what's the most important, not some path that someone is going to lay out for you.

Tom Kelly: Sara, final question. In one word, what does biathlon mean to you?

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Biathlon means community.

Tom Kelly: Community! Sara Studebaker-Hall, Thank you for joining us.

Sara Studebaker-Hall: Thank you. It was awesome.

Tom Kelly: Sara, thanks for joining us on HEARTBEAT. Biathlon is a sport of precision, an ultimate test of athletes on snow. Thanks for joining us on HEARTBEAT. Don't forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast channel. You'll find HEARTBEAT on Apple podcasts, Google, Spotify, Stitcher and more. We'll be back with more content this summer and with the season ahead to all of you listening this spring. Stay healthy. And we look forward to seeing you out on the trails very soon. I'm your host for HEARTBEAT, Tom Kelly from all of us at U.S. Biathlon. Thanks for listening today.




Heartbeat: US Biathlon Podcast (c) US Biathlon