‘I looked like Bambi on ice skates’

Grace C. talks about her evolution as a biathlete.

Alex Weiss I Sports Editor I aweiss@mail.smcvt.edu l Photos courtesy of Grace Castonguay

Castonguay and Sarah Lehto pose together after a race.

“Biathlon is one of those wacky sports that most people in the U.S. only hear about every four years when they watch the Olympics,” said St. Michael’s College senior Grace Castonguay. “It is a combination of cross-country skiing, particularly in the skate form, and precision marksmanship- shooting .22-caliber long rifles.

Castonguay is currently in Finland participating in the International Biathlon Union (IBU) Cup, which she said is considered the step before the World Cup. 

With only five United States athletes in the World Cup, Castonguay is the first alternate if an athlete drops out.

As of Tuesday, December 5th, Grace has been called up to the World Cup this upcoming weekend in Hochflizen, Austria.

Castonguay’s skill level is highly impressive according to her biathlon coach, Sarah Lehto.

“When we first started working together she was relatively new to the sport,” Lehto said. “It’s a great testament to Grace’s ability to grasp new information and put it into use immediately. The fact that she made these [IBU Cup] teams after only a few years of practice is quite rare.”

Lehto is entering her 25th year as a biathlon coach. She worked for the National Guard for 18 years and currently works for the Ethan Allen Biathlon Club in Jerricho, VT.

Castonguay races for the St. Michael’s College Nordic ski team, in addition to being a biathlete, 

Molly Peters, the St. Michael’s College Nordic ski coach and Lehto require a system to simultaneously coach Castonguay and many other St. Michael’s College skiers. Lehto communicates with Castonguay about her training plan with Peters, then makes a biathlon specific plan, according to Lehto.

Castonguay was not always a fan of biathlons until her younger brother Theo convinced her to start racing.

“I would go to his races and think, ‘This is such a dumb sport, wearing these thin spandex suits with thin gloves, freezing your butt off- no thank you,’” Castonguay said. “I was big on running. I had my goals set on running for University of New Hampshire, but then I had a series of injuries that led me to pick-up cross-country skiing.”

Castonguay partakes in a biathlon mid-race.

“I do my first race, barely knowing how to skate, I looked like Bambi on ice skates. I remember finishing that race with the biggest smile on my face, it was the most fun I had ever had competing in sport.”

This began her Nordic skiing career, but the rifle shooting did not start until her freshman year of college. A biathlon coach in Utah encouraged Castonguay to join their practice, which ignited her love for the sport.

“I realized how meditative it was,” Castonguay said. “It is a beautiful metaphor for life. When you go to shoot, there are a ton of external factors that impact the shot-factors that you cannot control, you can only control how you respond. That is what made me fall in love with the shooting aspect.” 

According to Castonguay, her success is due to a mixture of perfectionism, the fear of regret, and hard work.

Grace and Theo Castonguay pose for media day photos as teammates.

“I have an extremely competitive personality,” Castonguay said. “When I pick something that I want to do and be good at, I go 110%…I never want to sit with the feeling of regret, like I didn’t do everything I could or push myself to my fullest. Every year I am doing, like, 650 hours of training just to get one second per kilometer faster.”

Her younger brother, and St. Michael’s College teammate Theo, agrees.

“Perfectionist, poised and relentless,” said her brother, Theo Castonguay. “She’s never late to anything, and when she says she got a bad grade you just have to kind of roll your eyes like, ‘really a 96?’, you know, she’s one of those kids. Very type-A. She is never off balance mentally, physically, emotionally. She is always in control of a scenario.”

This year, Castonguay made an appearance at the junior world championships in Kazakhstan.

“I was thrilled to have earned the opportunity to go race internationally,” Castonguay said. “I tried to soak in the experience as much as I could.” 

“I want to show up and race and prove that I belong here. I’m not just coming over here to race and get my ass handed to me by a bunch of Scandinavians, I want to actually compete.”

Castonguay will be traveling back and forth between St. Michael’s College and Europe over the next few months. She will make an effort to balance the Nordic ski team and the biathlon.

The travel involved in the IBU Cup, and potentially the World Cup, is a necessary step in Castonguay’s long-term goals of competing in the 2026 Olympics.

“Although this is a lot of work…I enjoy the constant pursuit of excellence and self-betterment,” Castonguay said.

Grace and Theo Castonguay photographed at a racing event.