She wanted to take it slow. Karolin Horchler ran her last races as an active biathlete in March 2022. The decision as to when this moment would come matured over the last few years and months. After the World Championships in Antholz 2020, where she won silver in the relay with her teammates Vanessa Hinz, Franziska Preuß and Denise Herrmann-Wick, her next goal was the Beijing Winter Olympics. Then came the injuries. First shin surgery, then two broken ribs and a broken foot.
"The strain was just too much for my body after 27 years of biathlon. It gave me clear signs," says the 34-year-old. "I realised for myself that it was time to leave competitive sports behind. It was a great time, but I wasn't ready to give 100 % anymore." For Horchler, hanging up her skis and rifle without a lot of media hype and TV cameras was exactly the right way to go. "I felt inside that now was the right time." The first to know of her decision was her twin sister, Kristin.
At first, Horchler didn't know what she wanted to do after the sport. She never had a plan B. However, the security provided by her employer, the German Armed Forces, gave her the freedom she needed to train and look for a new challenge. Then, overnight, she had an idea. "I woke up in the night and suddenly knew I want to become a midwife," she explains. The fact that the start of the dual study programme, which trains her to become a midwife, began just six months after her career ended, was pure coincidence.
It was already too late to apply for the September group, so Horchler interned at a hospital, adjusting to the fact that she wouldn't be able to start for another year. But later in August, she received a call about an open spot. "The first time I was in the delivery room and noticed the energy there, I knew this was my calling. Birth is a miracle and accompanying women through it is a gift."
Horchler has already completed one year of her three-and-a-half-year studies. She says the transition from the training center to the university has been tough. "I study dual, which means that I am in the university for 8-10 weeks in blocks and afterwards or before that in the clinic for the same duration. Semester breaks mean working in the clinic. So, there is little time for exam preparation." Usually, university days go from 8 am to 6 pm. After that, she goes jogging or cross-country skiing in the winter to compensate.
"Sitting in the classroom all day is really exhausting. But I have great motivation to study because I do it for myself and I enjoy it a lot." During the weeks at the hospital, she works shifts. That's contrast work because it's not uncommon for her to be on her feet the entire time during a nine-hour shift. Horchler says she learned the right way to deal with stress and strain in competitive sports. During her biathlon career, she gained a lot of experience that now helps in her professional life. What biathlon and midwifery have in common is that you always must be flexible.
Although there is a shortage of midwives in Germany, Horchler is not discouraged. Together with her colleagues, she is campaigning for the profession to be given more appreciation and recognition again. "I get so many kind words from the women I care for. I like that there is a lot of humanity in my job. I'm there when a person comes into the world. That's real life. I can't imagine anything more beautiful." As in her biathlon days, there are ups and downs in the delivery room. However, that is exactly what makes life worth living for Karolin Horchler.
Photos: IBU archive, Karolin Horchler