Lansing, Mich. –
The Michigan National Guard (MING) biathlon team had 13 Soldiers test their mettle by competing against Guardsmen from 25 states in the 2023 Chief National Guard Bureau (CNGB) Biathlon Championships at the Camp Ethan Allen Firing Range, Jericho, Vermont, Feb. 17-22.
The CNGB Biathlon Championship is a national competition held annually in February that brings Guardsmen from around the nation. The event attracted over 100 competitors and consisted of two individual races, a 6km sprint and a 10 km pursuit, and two team races, relay and patrol. Teams with the most combined points win the Plantenberg Trophy — with Minnesota’s National Guard being this year’s recipient.
Despite not taking home the trophy, Michiganders still walked away from the competition placing respectably in several events. Michigan Men’s Open relay team of Capt. Stephen Hook, Cadet William Kordenbrock, Staff Sgt. William Fowler and Sgt. David Dohnal placed 13th. Those same Soldiers took 15th in the Men’s Open division Patrol race. Capt. Stephen Ronan placed fifth in the men’s Novice Pursuit Race. Ronan partnered with Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Woodruff, Staff Sgt. Michael Merfert, and Spc. Austin Nicholson to place first in both the Novice Division Relay and the Novice Division Patrol Race.
Biathlon is a winter sport that originated from Norwegian military units in the 18th century and combines cross-country skiing and rifle shooting. It is known for requiring tremendous stamina and endurance. Contestants ski through cross-country trails where distance is broken up into shooting rounds.
“I have been doing this for many years and am probably one of the oldest still competing in the championships,” said Lt. Col. Jennifer McLean-Ellis, MING biathlon team coach and Fort Custer garrison commander. “What I notice most as I get older is that my heart rate does not come down as fast as it used to, so hitting the targets were much more challenging.”
While it might be unsurprising that states known for colder climates and with a history of skiing sports dominated this year’s championship, some competitors had unlikely origins.
This year, Michigan combined with the Virgin Islands Biathlon Team to enter composite Novice teams for both the relay and patrol races.
This team consisted of Staff Sgt. Greg Paggeot, 1st Lt. Austin DeOrio, Sgt. TJ Downes, and (Rank?) Levar VanBeverhoudt from the Virgin Islands.
The unique partnership originates back to the 2018 competition when McLean-Ellis shared a room with Lt. Col. Ruth Crescenzo, who was skiing for Alaska at the time.
“In 2019, Lt. Col. Crescenzo went to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and she wanted to further the Michigan-Virgin Islands partnership by bringing a Virgin Islands Biathlon team to the CNGB Championships,” said McLean-Ellis. “That first year it was just Capt. Marcus Sydney, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Mervin Mills, Lt. Col. Crescenzo, and myself.”
Since then, Virgin Island’s team has increased in size. This year they brought 13 Soldiers to the CNGB Championships — the same as Michigan.
For Soldiers interested in joining the team or getting started in biathlon, McLean-Ellis recommends a combination of cardio, coordination, and balance.
“You will need good aerobic conditioning, so training in running, biking, or swimming is good cross-training aerobically,” she said. “You can’t hold the weapon on the target standing on skis with your heart rate at 170 and the wind blowing.”
While biathlon may seem intimidating, the partnership between Michigan and Virgin Islands shows that athletes aren't bound by geography. Rather, they are forged by a desire and willingness to challenge themselves.
The other individual results are as follows:
Men’s 6km Open Sprint:
Staff Sergeant William Fowler 27th
Cadet William Kordenbrock 29th
Capt. Stephen Hook 35th
Men’s 6km Master’s Sprint:
Sgt. David Dohnal 12th
Women’s 6km Master’s Sprint:
Lt. Col. Jennifer McLean-Ellis
Men’s 3km Novice Sprint:
Staff Sgt. Michael Merfert 10th
Capt. Stephen Ronan 12th
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Woodruff 15th
Sgt.TJ Downes 19th
Staff Sgt. Greg Paggeot 20th
Spc. Austin Nicholson 24th
1st Lt. Austin DeOrio 25th
Men’s 10km Open Pursuit:
Staff Sgt. William Fowler 23rd
Cadet William Kordenbrock 28th
Capt. Stephen Hook 34th
Men’s 10km Master’s Pursuit:
Sgt. David Dohnal 14th
Men’s 5km Novice Pursuit:
Capt. Stephen Ronan 5th
Spc. Austin Nicholson 13th
Staff Sgt. Michael Merfert 15th
Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Woodruff 18th
1st Lt. Austin DeOrio 20th
Staff Sgt. Greg Paggeot 22nd
Sgt. TJ Downes 23rd
Women’s 10km Masters Pursuit:
Lt. Col. Jennifer McLean-Ellis