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A Daughter of Rowing Skis Her Way to Sochi

January 24, 2014

The name Dreissigacker is a familiar one to the rowing community. The oars that Peter and Dick Dreissigacker invented ended the old wooden blade era and can be found in almost any boathouse around the world.

During the winter, rowers spend hours training on the rowing machines that the brothers built and during the warmer weather, rowers from all over go to the Dreissigacker-run Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Vermont, which began as one of the first rowing camps in the country.

Both Dick Dreissigacker and his wife, Judy Geer, are U.S. Olympic rowers and their daughter, Emily, was a standout rower at Dartmouth College and has rowed on three U.S. teams at the junior and under 23 level.

But the name Hannah Dreissigacker has never really been associated with the sport. While that might be, as of a week ago, her name, just like her parents, will forever carry the title “Olympian.”

A life-long cross-country skier, Hannah, 27, was recently named to the 2014 United States Olympic Biathlon Team that will compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, beginning February 7. Biathlon is an event that combines cross-country skiing with target shooting.

“I’m psyched,” Dreissigacker said. “I’ve been skiing my whole life, but I’ve only been doing biathlon for about four years. Shooting is such a hard thing to really master, and I’m just trying to have fun and do my best and just keep getting better at shooting. I’m so psyched to go to Sochi. That was one of my goals for the year and the other goal was to be racing world cups and trying to have some good results.”

For Dreissigacker, the road to Sochi began when she was a pre-teen and skiing on a local team. She had, like all the Dreissigacker children, learned to row and ski at a very young age.

“I learned how to row when I was three or four in a little boat that my dad made. We all learned how to row,” she said. “But Vermont isn’t exactly great for rowing,” she said. “We have Craftsbury, and we have some good rowing groups, but it’s not exactly ideal for rowing; half the year is snow.”

She said she did row some, but when it came time for choosing, it was skiing she went after. Skiing with her local group was very competitive. Two others from that group will be at Sochi with Dreissigacker, including Susan Dunklee, who is on the biathlon squad and Ida Sargent, who is on the Nordic team.

“I just really got into skiing,” she said. “We had a really strong group and we had fun doing well. Once I got into that, I just wanted to keep going with it.”

And so she did, skiing at Dartmouth, where she and majored in engineering with a studio art focus. After college, Dreissigacker took up a rifle and started competing in biathlon. The skiing part was the easier of the two disciplines. Shooting was another thing.

“I always really liked skiing,” she said. “But, I also liked the idea of having something extra as well. Biathlon is really fun and it’s fun to watch, too. And I liked learning something new. When you’ve been doing something your whole life, it’s cool to pick up something new, and that’s how shooting was for me.

“The races can really shift around based on how you shoot,” she said. “There are so many variables. You can be skiing really well and be in great shape, but then if you come in and miss your target by just a fingernail, that means an extra thirty seconds on your time. In some races, it’s a whole minute.

“So that makes it different than just the physical piece,” she said. “There’s a lot of that mental aspect to shooting. People can go from first to fortieth one day to the next.”

Currently, Dreissigacker is training and competing in northern Italy, where she will remain until it’s time to leave for Sochi. Most recently she raced at World Cup 6 in Antholz, Italy, but didn’t have the best weekend. A combination of being sick, breaking her good rifle in an early fall and then a competition ending fog before her relay all accounted for a “dud weekend.”

But she is healthy again and in good spirits, spending her down time painting the scenes she is encountering on the way. Dreissigacker paints as a way to relax and she likes to post her paintings on her blog.

“Art is what I like to do while I’m training, when I’m in a hotel and I need to be resting between workouts,” she said. “I travel with my watercolors and paint on the road.”

Soon, she and her teammates will be packing up and heading for Sochi, which she said she is both excited and slightly nervous about, given the security concerns that are being widely reported.

“I don’t know what to expect,” she said. “I really have no idea what I’m expecting.  But, I think for the athletes, it will be great. I definitely have some concerns, but for now my focus is going to be on competing.”

To see Dreissigacker’s blog about Sochi and her love of art titled “Hannah’s ARTVenture, Sochi Edition,” visit http://hannahsartventure.blogspot.com/.

Ed Moran, ed@usrowing.org, photos courtesy of U.S. Biathlon and Hannah Dreissigacker

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