Athletes from all over the world are competing in Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. And, many of our American competitors are multi-sport athletes — not skiing and skating, but hunting and fishing. Before they departed, some of America’s finest winter athletes talked to F&S about how they got into their sport, how they started hunting and fishing, and their favorite outdoor pursuit.
Here’s what they had to say.
Rico Roman, Sled Hockey
“I was enlisted in the U.S. Army for nine years and served three tours in Iraq and one tour to Kosovo,” Roman says. “On this last tour I was in a Humvee that was struck an improvised explosive device and I lost the use of both my legs. I had my right leg for about a year, but it was too painful, so I spoke with my family, friends and other amputees and decided to have it amputated.
“After completing my rehab, I was getting into hand-cycling, and then I did a two-day, 50 mile ride, and some people I met asked me to come out and try sled hockey, but I kept telling them ‘no thanks.’
“I’m from Oregon and it’s not a big hockey state. Up until then, I’d never watched hockey or knew the rules or anything like that. I finally gave in and tried it out, and thought it was like football on ice. After eight-months playing, my coach at the time recommended I try out for the Paralympic hockey team, which was going to Vancouver in 2010. I didn’t make the cut the first time around, but I didn’t dwell on that, I just worked harder, and made the team the following season.
“I didn’t really start hunting until I got in the Service. Since then I’ve been able to go duck hunting, and I’ve shot my biggest deer–I think it would fall in the 150 class,” Romans says. “In fact, the first week I lived in San Antonio, I was lucky enough to go hunt javelin, and it was just a blast.”
“I’m definitely more of a hunter than a fisherman. Don’t get me wrong, I like both, but I definitely love to hunt,” Roman says. “It’s just a great experience to be in the outdoors and being around other people that enjoy it just as much.
Kate Uhlaender, Skeleton
“My dad was from Texas, and my mom was a ski instructor in Colorado, and that’s how they met–she was his ski instructor. So growing up, I split my time between Texas and Colorado and skiing was always something I put everything I had into. I’m that way with everything I do. But I didn’t even know about skeleton until after high school when a girl at my gym introduced me to it,” Uhlaender says.
“At first, I just wanted to try it because it looked scary. Three weeks later, I won junior nationals. My fourth week, I went to the junior world championship in Germany, and then in my eighth week, I won the senior national championship. So after all that, I learned I had a good chance of going to the Olympics within just two or three years of learning the sport, which is almost unheard of.
“My dad loved to hunt whitetail deer, though for some reason, he preferred deer from Texas versus Colorado or Kansas, and I have no idea why–he said the ones from Texas always tasted better. So he’d hunt Kansas and Texas for deer and upland bird, and then go to our place in Colorado for elk.
“My father ended up investing in a farm in Kansas, though I guarantee you the only reason he did that is so he could have a place to hunt,”
“My father was an amazing man. He was an athlete, an avid hunter and angler, a farmer, a major league baseball player, and basically my idol growing up. He instilled all the ethics and values that he had in me..
“When I was younger, he would take me out all the time, but when I reached my adolescence, I was your typical girl and had a ‘whatever’ attitude about it all. Now that I’m older and he passed away, I wish I wasn’t like that.
“I’m always amazed at how much thought and strategy goes into hunting–but it makes it all worth it. You appreciate what is on your plate 10 times more when you know what goes into it. The only way to provide food for yourself in an organic way is to grow it or go get it, and I’m just a huge fan of getting it in the traditional way. Enjoying hunting and the outdoors is just one of those things that happened–the fact that my father’s dreams and passions fell in line with mine.”
Justin Reiter, Snowboarding
“I was born in Lake Tahoe, California, moved to Colorado when I was six, started snowboarding when I was nine years old, and began competing a few years later when I simply stumbled on a couple events,” Reiter says.
“I loved racing–I loved going fast and not being judged in subjective terms. Racing is purely objective. The first man across the line wins. It doesn’t matter if it’s pretty; it doesn’t matter if it’s dirty. The psychological aspect of that always fuels me and gives me something I could sink my teeth into. So after high school, that’s what I dedicated my life to. I know it sounds like a line from the mouth of Ricky Bobby, but I just want to go fast.
“It’s all about the carve. It’s a very clean, fluid line. There’s no feeling like it. I have to think it’s what it would feel like to be the fly at the end of a perfect fly cast.
“I’m really into fly fishing. I was always intrigued with the beauty and peacefulness that fly fishing presents whenever I see someone standing in the water. Then one day a mentor of mine that fished offered to give me some instruction, and it only took a little while and I was hooked.
“When I’m not snowboarding, fly fishing pretty much occupies the rest of my life. Fishing is probably the one sport that I do that is not terribly taxing on my body. To be able to go out and stand in a cold river and let it rush over my legs while I’m recovering from a workout is pretty rejuvenating. I don’t even have to catch fish. I always put a book in my vest and if the fish aren’t biting, of if I just want to hang out by the river for a while, I’ll sit down and read for a while. That’s something you very rarely get to do in the world. I enjoy taking the time to focus on something different than going fast.
Tim Burke, Biathlon
“I grew up in Paul Smiths, NY, which is a real small town in the Adirondacks, just outside Lake Placid. I didn’t have any neighbors and there wasn’t ever much going on in my neck of the woods, so basically when I wasn’t in school, I was outside, running around in the woods on skis with my brother or sister.
“It was easy for me to make the transition into competing when I was really young. I entered my first ski race when I was five years old. After that, I started training at some of the Olympic venues in Lake Placid and always skied past the biathlon range and saw athletes training. There was just something about it that appealed to me. I grew up shooting a BB gun, and it just looked like a lot of fun. I tried it for the first time when I was about 12 years old and never looked back.
“Biathlon is all about being comfortable and shooting with a very high heart rate, in a stressful situation–that’s the hardest part of the sport. Since it’s a timed event, you just don’t have the luxury of slowing down and taking your time between shots. From the time our skis hit the platform, we load the rifle, shoot five times, then begin skiing again within a 25-second window, so it all happens really fast.”
“Growing up, my home was basically surrounded by water.
“Really, I enjoy any type of fishing, but fly fishing is my real passion. It’s my release from competition and training. If I have any free time, or any energy, I’m on the water here in Lake Placid. From my house, I can be standing in the river in under 10 minutes. It’s just such a great way for me to unwind after a hard day of training. I can get my mind on something else, and hopefully catch some fish.
“I always travel with my equipment if I think there’s even a remote chance I’ll have someplace to fish. In fact, my teammate, Lowell Bailey, and I spend some time in Utah for training camp and we always arrive early before camp officially starts so we have time to get in some fishing, mostly on the Provo. Then we rent a house that’s close to the river, and every now and then we can sneak away just before it gets dark for a little more time on the water.”