Inspirational Women: Susan Dunklee & Emily Dreissigacker
Following Mari Laukkanen's “be a Champion with ME” program to support and inspire a new generation in Finland, let’s jump over to the USA and see how IBU WCH Silver medallist Susan Dunklee and her teammate Emily Dreissigacker are reaching out to young women. These two Vermonters not only share the same Ski Club, but also a deep interest in promoting sport for youth, especially young girls.
Girls with Guns
Recently, the two conducted the second stage of “Girls with Guns”, an opportunity for young girls to spend time with these champions on the US team. The initiative grew out of an idea from Dreissigacker a few months ago. “When the US Nationals were held in Vermont last winter, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to get the whole women's National Team in one place to host a clinic. I think introducing girls to strong role models in the sport is one of the best ways to get them interested in and stick with biathlon.”
Need for Strong Role Models
The idea of such an event was not just a lucky calendar coincidence; the 28-year-old’s introduction to biathlon was the perfect background to create such an inspiring event. Dreissigacker explained, “I think a lot of it comes from how I got in to biathlon. I didn't start doing biathlon until I was 26. I skied in high school and tried biathlon briefly then, but there weren't many girls doing biathlon in my area. Plus I thought the rifle was really heavy and I just generally wasn't having very much fun. Now, of course, I wish I had gotten into the sport sooner. I think if I had had strong female biathlete role models to look up to back then, things might have been different.”
The idea proved right and the success was immediate; the numbers were unexpectedly big from the very start. “I have had so much help in the planning and execution of both clinics that we've done so far. Really, our biggest problem was having almost too many girls showing up to our first clinic! We had close to 100 girls, which led to some last minute changes and scrambling for extra help. Our second clinic that we just held in Lake Placid, had a smaller group. It ended up being really great and allowed us to do a lot more one-on-one with the girls.”
Building Self-confidence, Discipline, Perseverance and More
One Dreissigacker’s most active partners in this operation is US women's team ace Susan Dunklee. The 31-year-old from Vermont took the project at heart. She thinks sport is a great tool to improve the lives of many youngsters: “Sports are a tremendous way to empower kids, especially girls, by teaching them self-confidence, discipline, perseverance, leadership skills, and inspiring them to live healthy and active lifestyles. These are all wonderful qualities that I have picked up through sport and I'd like to pass them on. I want kids to know that they can dream big and, that if they work hard they can accomplish great things.”
Before Dreissigacker came up with this idea, Hochfilzen 2017 Silver medalist was very active in promoting the sport and its values: “I work with my home ski club, the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, to help inspire kids in our local club including occasionally coaching the youth program. I also visit local schools where I share stories from the World Cup. We need to take the emphasis off winning and specialization at a young age. Kids need to enjoy sport for the right reasons and that will encourage them to stay active their whole life instead of burning out at a young age.”
Craftsbury Outdoor Center: Perfect Example
Dreissigacker also belongs to the same club and thinks it is a model that should be copied for its values and promotions. “My club team is part of an organization called the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. I think it is a perfect example of what can be done to help support athletes at all levels. It is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote participation and excellence in lifelong sports. They have a huge array of junior programs and offer scholarships at all levels. There is an Olympic development program that offers complete support for everything from housing and food to training and racing trips. I think we need more organizations like this.”
Both women feel the promotion of sport and an active lifestyle should include families. Dunklee added, “It is important to reach out to the families of kids and involve them. Kids cannot make it in biathlon or many other sports without the support of their families. Sports involve a big commitment of time and money. It is also important to develop sports centers and clubs at the local level that can help provide opportunities, coaching and equipment.”
Dreissigacker agrees with her teammate. “I think there's a lot parents can do to support their kid's involvement in sports. I think kids raised in an active lifestyle are much more likely to want to do sports. And, like I said before, I think having strong athletic role models is incredibly important, especially for girls who are so often told by society that they shouldn't be strong or fast.”
With the heart full of the good spirit created by Dunklee and Dreissigacker’s words, it is back to Europe. Look for another story next week about women inspiring the young generation.