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Sydney Notschaele, 15-year-old biathlete on Team Saskatchewan, gets ready to take aim with her rifle during target practice at the Regina Wildlife Federation. Photo by Victoria Dinh.

Sydney Notschaele sat on a bench clenching and unclenching her fists to warm up her frozen hands beneath her thin gloves.

 

“Before every race I get so nervous [that] I can't think,” Notschaele said. “My stomach feels like I'm going to throw up and I just want the race to be over.”

 

This month, 15-year-old Notschaele will be competing in the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, British Colombia.

 

“I’ll be the youngest one there against 20-year-olds. After that we have nationals from March 10 to 15 so I’m hoping to place there,” said Notschaele.

 

Her long blond ponytail hung out behind her brightly coloured touque as she adjusted her ski boots. She is a biathlete and had just finished a rifle shooting drill outside in the -30C winter air.

 

“[People] always ask me, ‘Oh, isn’t that where you bike, swim and run?’ and I’m like, ‘No, it’s skiing and shooting,’” said the athlete.

 

Biathlon consists of free-technique cross-country skiing and small-bore rifle marksmanship.

 

Practice still in session, Notschaele stepped outside to brave the Saskatchewan cold once again. She waited by the shooting mat anticipating her coach’s signal. After the designated “GO,” Notschaele darted to the mat, crisscrossing her cross-country skis to get into position.

 

“I think for Sydney, the shooting comes very naturally,” said Doug Sylvester. “She almost didn’t have to be taught anything about shooting. She just did it intuitively.” Sylvester is Notschaele’s provincial coach on Team Saskatchewan.

 

Biathlete2 VictoriaDinh

 

Notschaele stood for a brief moment lining up her aim before she began shooting at the distant targets. She hits every single one in a matter of seconds.

 

“For her, sky’s the limit. If she wants to get very serious she can go a long way and potentially race internationally for Canada,” Sylvester said.

 

It was three years ago that Notschaele took part in her big first competition. She was 12-years-old and competing in the Cadet Provincial Championships with biathletes aged 12 to 19.

 

“There were two days of races, and I had never been more nervous in my life,” Notschaele remembered. “I ended up getting second in both races [that I was in] – qualifying me for nationals [in Halifax]– and on top of that, I was awarded third overall female there.”

 

Notschaele is actually below the age requirement but arrangements were made to allow her to compete this year.

 

“My coach wanted a fair shot for everyone. He didn't care if you were 19 and this was your last chance to try and make the team - he wanted dedicated athletes that could prove they were strong enough to be on the team,” she said.

 

“The Canada Winter Games is the premier event for athletes [around] aged 20 and under in biathlon… The next step is the Commonwealth Games or the Olympics,” said Sylvester. He has been coaching Notschaele for the past four years. “Some kids you teach [biathlon] to and they learn it over time, but Sydney was good at it from the very start.”

 

Although Sylvester has nothing but praise for the young athlete, he isn’t the only member of Notschaele’s fan club.

 

“My father is just in love with biathlon and has never missed [any of my] races,” Notschaele exclaimed. “[And] my mom has framed every medal I have ever gotten and has hung them in my dad’s office… They will always be my biggest fans.”

 

With seven national and 21 provincial championships under her belt, Notschaele won’t let her age get in the way as she continues to train to add more titles to her collection.

 

SydneyBiathlete VictoriaDinh

 

“I’ve had to deal with people who didn’t want me to succeed in this sport, [but I've also] had athletes from all around Canada encourage me in my races,” Notschaele said. “When people find out I'm 15, they usually congratulate me on how well I'm doing… I personally don't think age is a huge factor in how you do, it's more about dedication and how much you want it.”

 

Her training session finally over, rosy cheeked, Notschaele took off her skis. Her bright blue eyes glimmered as she spoke of her future aspirations.

 

“Once I am done high school, I hope to take a year off and move out to Canmore to train with the Canadian Olympic biathlon team,” said Notschaele. “It is my dream and biggest goal to make it to the Olympics.”