Alexandria seventh grader Kaisa Bosek made a good impression during her first varsity Nordic ski meet at the Central Lakes Conference championship this winter.
Bosek won at the junior high level much of the season for the Cardinals before moving up to varsity to race the skate portion of the CLC meet on Jan. 26. She finished third, earned All-CLC honors and helped her team to a conference title.
She’s pretty quick on skis at 13 years old, but that’s only half the battle of a new hobby she’s taking on. Bosek is adding a rifle to the equation as one of a very few number of students in Minnesota to compete in biathlons. The sport combines an athlete’s speed on skis with her marksmanship on a shooting range to crown a winner.
“I like to ski and now when I’m getting a little better at it, it’s getting more fun shooting too,” Bosek said. “At the beginning in some of the first races, I didn’t shoot as good, but some of the last races I did better and hit more targets.”
Bosek didn’t start shooting until passing a gun safety class at 12 years old. She didn’t start shooting frequently until her mom and dad, Jeff and Karen Bosek, were able to lease the specific .22 caliber rifle needed to compete in the biathlons from a team in Nisswa.
That was less than two months ago. She was hitting about 25 percent of the small targets in the prone and standing positions at the start. Now she’s up to about 55 percent.
“I’m usually kind of nervous because I want to do good,” she said. “At the beginning, it wasn’t the best, but now it’s getting better. Hopefully I’m gaining a little bit of confidence from that.”
UNIQUE LEARNING LESSONS
Kaisa admits there is a little bit of pressure when it comes to the shooting side of the sport.
Her dad is a former sniper in the United States Marine Corps. Jeff, now 48, learned both the mental and physical traits of what makes a great shooter. He believes those are things he can pass down to Kaisa in helping her reach her potential in biathlons.
“I taught sniper schools too, so I taught a lot of guys how to shoot,” Jeff said. “To do it now, I love it. I feel really at home there. I’m hoping Kaisa can really pick up on it. So far, so good. Kaisa is really progressing beautifully, at a pace I’ve been very happy with.”
The family has quite a set-up to help her practice with a ski trail groomed and a shooting range on their property north of Alexandria.
Everything is setup to simulate a competitive course. The ski loop is 1.5 kilometers, the same distance Kaisa skis in competitions before reaching a shooting station. The targets are the correct size, about 4.5 inches for standing shots and 1.75 inches in the prone position, and sit the exact 164 feet downrange.
There is even a generator that runs lights on the range so they can practice in the dark. School work comes first, Jeff says, and Nordic ski practice with the Cardinals almost always takes them past sunset.
Kaisa often practices outside about three times a week when there’s good snow and also shoots in the basement by dry firing the rifle. That helps build up the muscle memory it takes to become a consistent shooter.
Jeff says the three most important things to being a great marksman are consistent body alignment, a perfect sight picture and trigger control.
“It’s got to be such an easy squeeze back,” he said. “Any jerking, flinching is going to throw it off. If you can master those three things, you’re going to be pretty good.”
Kaisa is getting there.
She has already seen some success after taking first during a 16-and-younger 7.5K biathlon in Middleton, Wisconsin on Feb. 14. The competition had five 1.5K loops of skiing and four shooting stations. For each miss, skiers have to race a 150-meter penalty loop.
Kaisa missed just once out of 20 shots from the prone position to finish first against a field of boys and girls in 33 minutes, 24 seconds. Competitions in Minnesota incorporate shots from the standing position.
“It was exciting because I had never really won a biathlon race overall,” Kaisa said. “It a little bit surprised me because the first day I got 16 out of 20 and the one person beat me, so it was an exciting day.”
The biathlons test an athlete both mentally and physically. They need to be fast, while also showing an ability to control their breathing and hold steady to hit their mark.
“That’s what makes it so exciting is it’s a combination of two things,” Jeff said. “You have to go from 180 heartbeats down to nothing in a matter of a few seconds. That takes some training to do that. … That’s kind of what I specialized in, so it plays perfectly into what I’m trying to teach her, how to quickly get that under control.”
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Kaisa may be the only student from the area to compete in biathlons, but she hopes she’s not the last.
The Boseks are trying to put a small group together so they can travel to competitions as a team. Some of Kaisa’s friends have already raced in novice races that serve as an introduction to the sport. A few friends in the fold could add to the enjoyment for Kaisa and the motivation to keep improving.
With so few young athletes who compete in biathlons, there are opportunities there for those who get good at it, starting with the Junior World Cup once students turn 16.
Jeff says he would love to see her get the chance to compete at that level. Kaisa hasn’t thought much about it yet. She’s still getting her feet wet and enjoying some early success along the way.
“I’d like to just keep going right now and see where I end up,” she said.