It’s late afternoon on a Friday at the Canmore Nordic Centre. Despite the warm weather in late February, the trails are in excellent condition. Jenna Sherrington is preparing her skis, poles and .22-caliber bolt-action rifle for training.
Her skis make a rhythmic shushing sound on the snow as she takes off down the trail with the iconic Rockies as her backdrop.
Over the next few hours, she will ski up to 15 kilometres and shoot anywhere from 50 to 200 rounds of ammunition. And she’s already done this four times this week.
It may not be a typical 18-year-old’s idea of an exciting Friday night, but Sherrington’s passion for biathlon outweighs her desire for a social life.
As one of four female biathletes on the Senior National Development Team for Canada, Sherrington has many opportunities for securing a spot at the Olympics someday. However, talent aside, she still faces many challenges that may cause her to give up the sport she loves.
“My parents just put me on skis when I was about two and since then I’ve just been skiing my whole life.”
Sherrington’s love of skiing quickly became an obsession for biathlon. After starting in the cross-country ski program with Foothills Nordic Ski Club, Sherrington wanted the added challenge of the rifle.
“I started on air rifles at Winsport, Canada Olympic Park (COP) and just loved it from the minute I started and moved up to .22s and I’m still like, ‘Wow this is so cool.’”
Sherrington’s father saw how committed she was from an early age.
“She was in synchronized swimming for a year,” says Ian Sherrington.
“As soon as they told her she had to put gel in her hair she was like ‘Screw this, this is ludicrous’… but once she found biathlon, everything else just went to the wayside.”
Now in grade 12, Sherrington makes her training fit around her classes as much as possible.
“I’m able to go at my own pace. When I’m at school, I can write as many tests as I want in a day, which is great.”
Sherrington takes a corner at the Calforex Cup #3 in Hinton, Alta. on March 8th, 2020. She came in first in the Youth Women Sprint race and Youth Women Mass Start race. Photo courtesy of Ian Sherrington
Beyond school and training five to six days a week, Sherrington also coaches younger athletes three days a week. Sherrington’s father mentioned that she gives back to the biathlon community as much as possible.
“Some of the awards that she’s won, that are not just about the performance in biathlon, but about giving back to the community of biathlon. She’s not just an athlete, she’s also a role model for all the younger kids coming up.”
Earlier this year Sherrington attended the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland. There were more than 1,800 youth between the ages of 16 to 18. They came from 79 countries and competed in more than 80 different events. Sherrington placed 14th in the sprint race out of almost 100 female biathletes.
“There’s just so many athletes and the energy there was insane. I made some really awesome friends and really want to go to the real Olympics now.”
However, going to the Olympics will take some time and a lot more training. Sherrington competes at the youth level currently, but she’ll have to move up to the junior and then senior level before she can compete for a chance to go to the Olympics. This means that she'll be aiming for the 2026 Olympic games in Italy.
That’s six years to train and compete – to hone her skills and physical ability. It also means six years of supporting herself financially while training full-time.
“It’s really hard because there's not a ton of funding in biathlon so you have to work almost full-time while trying to train full time and it’s really hard to balance the two.”
Sherrington’s father understands that this kind of decision is not one to be taken lightly.
“Whether it’s what she wants to continue, whether she wants to go to university or whether she wants to branch out you’re always asking yourself that question is it worth it? It's so much work and money.”
18-year-old Jenna Sherrington at the Canmore Nordic Centre on February 28th, 2020. Sherrington’s parents put her on skis when she was only two years old, leading to her love and passion for the sport of biathlon. Photo by Lindsey Wynder
Tyson Smith has been Sherrington’s coach for the last six years with the Foothills Nordic Ski Club. Smith was on the Men’s National Biathlon team for several years before switching to his current coaching role.
“When you kind of dedicate your whole life to it, it’s kind of a no-brainer. I wasn’t at all surprised with talking to her that she wants to keep training.”
Training means moving to Canmore, where rent is upwards of $600 a month. Alberta Biathlon Training Centre fees are up to $9,000 a year and that doesn’t include costs for traveling to competitions several times during the season.
Luckily, Sherrington doesn’t have to shoulder equipment costs on her own. She has personal sponsors – Rossignol has provided her with skis, bags and boots for the last three years and Marwe and Leki jumped on board last year with skate skis and poles.
But still, funding for biathlon in Canada is limited. The National Sport Organizations 2017/2018 Funding has biathlon’s Sport Support Program (SSP) listed at $543,250 and the Athlete Assistance Program (AAP) listed at $293,547. In contrast, the SSP for alpine skiing was $4,701,975 and ice hockey was $4,338,350.
For many Olympic sports that aren’t “mainstream,” Smith points out that the lack of Canadian media coverage makes it difficult to find sponsors, especially for the four years in between Olympics.
“If you look at, say, Europe, on Eurosport for example, you’ll even see lawn bowling on TV. So, there’s more reason for companies to put money into the athletes and the sports.”
Sherrington faces a long road ahead, but armed with the support of her family and her love for biathlon, she wants to make it work.
“I love it and it’s my passion and I just need to give it a go at least once. I need to see where it goes.”
Correction: This story has been changed to more accurately reflect the process for a minor to acquire a firearm for biathlon.
- By Lindsey Wynder