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Brittany Hudak: The Interview!

Brittany Hudak is a Canadian para biathlete. The 24-year-old from Prince Albert competes in the standing races and made her World Cup debut in 2013. She was born without the lower part of her left arm and was inspired to pursue para nordic sports seriously after meeting Canadian para cross-country skier Colette Bourgonje. She has already competed at the Paralympic Games in Sochi 2014 and is looking forward to the next Games in PyeongChang in March 2018. As well as racing in cross country and biathon she is also studying for a degree in social work.

You can follow Brittany on Twitter: @brittanyhudak93
and Instagram: brittany_hudak

Why did you become a biathlete?

I grew up on an acreage in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan so I had shot paintball guns and pellet guns as a kid. I mainly aimed the paintball gun at my older brother and then shot army men and old pop cans with the pellet gun. Then I first tried the biathlon rifles when I was 18 and immediately loved it! I guess I always enjoyed shooting, so the idea of combining skiing and shooting was appealing to me.
I also like how every race can feel so different and it’s always exciting. I find I just keep coming back for more because of the challenge. I knew I would never be bored in this sport! Plus, shooting is FUN! Also, I really like nature. Skiing in all different places really makes me happy.

How do you assess last season? Were you happy with your performances?

Last season was difficult for me. For those that don’t know, I struggled with injury last season. I had anterior compartment syndrome which proved to be a challenge in getting through my skate races. The symptoms were the worst in my biathlon and skate races so luckily, I had classic technique races I could compete in as well. Sadly, many of my performances were below what I would have hoped for but I was still able to set a goal for each race. Even though sometimes that meant my goal was to just shoot clean or work on race strategy, I felt like I always did my best.
On a positive side, I was able to really work on the mental aspects of sport as well as my shooting. I actually found that with my skate technique being put on the back burner due to injury, I put a lot more focus on improving my shooting. I had some of the best shooting I’ve ever had in my races last season, so I was thoroughly happy with the progression I made with my ability to shoot over the year.

The World Cup returns to Canmore this season. Are you excited about racing at home? Do you get nervous or feel extra pressure racing in Canada?

It’s pretty rare that we get to race in Canada on our circuit so I’m really excited about racing at home. I’m a little nervous to be racing at home just because I know there will be so many people rooting for us so I would really like to perform well. That being said, I know that I will be able to feed off the home crowd energy and push a little harder while out there on the tracks.

What are your plans for summer training? Is there anything specific that you would like to improve?

The first part of my summer has been easing back into training while recovering from surgery. May and June consisted of a lot of biking since that was the mode of training that I was first able to do after surgery. For July, I will be hanging around Canmore, AB. for training. My first training camp with the team will be in New Zealand for three weeks in August. This camp is on snow so I’m really striving for improving my ski technique. Since I’ve only been skiing 5 years I still put a significant emphasis on refining my overall ski technique and efficiency. Then again this appears to be a sport where you’re always working on your technique so I would say that is mainly my focus for the summer months.

Are you excited about the up coming Paralympic Games? What are your goals for racing in PyeongChang?

The Games are coming up really fast which has me both excited and anxious! I’m excited to race at the Paralympic Games but I’m amazed at how fast the four years leading into the Games went by. I remember having so many goals in mind and now that the time is fast approaching, I’m reassessing some of those goals and fine tuning a bit. I think my main goals for the Games are to have performances that resemble my true ski ability. As simple as it sounds, I’m really striving to have races that are the best of my ability. More specifically I’m really hoping to do well in the long-distance biathlon. Shooting clean in this race is very important and I would say with my shooting results in this discipline last year, I would love to shoot clean in this race at the games. Really hoping for good shooting results at the Games!

Can you describe for my readers (who probably don’t follow much para-biathlon) how you shoot with one arm?

So how it works for shooting with one arm is we are allowed to have a stand that the stock of the rifle can rest on while we shoot. Since many of the athletes have one shorter or no arm at all, we need something that allows the barrel to be pointed in the right direction. This stand has a spring attached that flexes in all directions. The rules are that the spring must be lined up straight while shooting and not being forced in any direction.
The easy part for us in biathlon is that we approach the range and our rifles are brought out to the stand with a magazine loaded.

Do you train alone mostly or with your teammates? Do you ever train with the biathletes from the IBU team?

While I do love to be social, I would say for the majority of my training I do it on my own. Depending on the day, I will train with my teammates or coach Robin McKeever. If I’m training in Canmore, I will have shooting practices with my teammate Mark Arendz and will often do intensity sessions with him as well. If I’m away on a training camp, then I definitely train a lot more with my teammates. I do put an emphasis on training alone for some sessions so that I can tune in to what I’m doing and really spend the time I need to work on something specific.
While I don’t specifically train with the biathletes like Rosanna Crawford, I do see them on the trails quite often! It’s really inspiring to get to be around so many high level skiers in one place!

Canada has a really good para-nordic team. Do you get help from your country in term of funding and support like coaching/physios/wax techs etc? How does it work?

Our team has been fairly consistent with producing results, so this in turn has led to a rewarding amount of support and funding. Our training centre is based out of Canmore so all our support staff are here as well. We have access to our national team head coach Robin on a daily basis as well as physio, massage and wax techs. As long as we produce results, our program will continue to earn funding that goes to cover the costs of getting support like physio, wax techs, coaching and travelling to competitions. We are ever so fortunate to have such amazing staff because I think it helps keep the team progressing forward with their goals.

More and more of your fellow athletes are doing both a winter and summer sport now. Have you ever considered turning to the ‘dark side’ of summer sport? What sport would you do?

I’ve considered trying to do both a winter and summer sport. I think it would be cool to compete in shooting for a summer sport. I’ve looked into it a bit and found a few different options for shooting categories. I don’t think it would hamper my training for cross-country or biathlon either so that’s a bonus! Other than that, I would choose swimming as another sport. In Saskatchewan, I lived near many lakes so swimming has always been a passion of mine. I don’t know any technique for swimming but I just love being in the water.

What are your hobbies away from biathlon and cross country?

Does university count as a hobby? Just kidding. I do take online courses for a degree in social work which takes up a fair amount of my time but I enjoy many things. If it’s something outdoors, you can count me in! Whether it’s hiking, fishing or swimming I have a real passion for the great outdoors so you can often find me wandering outside. Or perhaps reading an interesting book and writing my genius ideas in my journal.

Does your rifle have a name?

Strangely enough I haven’t named my rifle.

Describe yourself in three words.

Goofy, adventurous, determined

Quick fire Questions:
Favourite biathlon nation (not your own): France
Favourite track: I don’t think I could ever pick just one!
Favourite shooting range: middle of nowhere Saskatchewan. Technically not an official range, but doesn’t that make it more exciting?
Lucky bib number: 93
Funniest biathlete on the World Cup: Myself… I think I’m hilarious.
Nicest biathlete on the World Cup: Mark Arendz…he’s single ladies.
Best thing about being a biathlete: Being able to travel the world with a ski bag and a rifle.

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