SODA SPRINGS, Calif. – One hour and eight minutes after the race began, Staff Sgt. Darryl Moxley crossed the finish line, legs aching and lungs burning. Several minutes later, his teammate, Lt. Col. Dan Markert, also crossed the line. The two California National Guard Soldiers had spent Sunday morning, March 30, competing in the Chuck Lyda Memorial Biathlon at the Auburn Ski Club.
The biathlon combines cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. It is a competition that requires a tremendous amount of stamina, endurance and technique.
One lap into the five-lap race, Markert, the J33 Chief of Current Operations at the Joint Force Headquarters, was already visibly exhausted, despite his excellent physical condition.
“This is my first year on skis,” Markert said.” I joined the team because I wanted to prove something; I wanted to show that you don’t have to be a cross-country skier to do biathlon. You can develop the skills and endurance over time.”
Markert said that he hadn’t had time to properly acclimatize before the race. The Auburn Ski Club sits at 7,200 feet, making breath control more difficult. Additionally, Markert said that the fresh powder on the trail was much harder to ski through.
“The great thing about biathlon is that every race has a new challenge, a new variable,” Markert said. “Whether it’s the snow, the temperature, the sun. I like seeing all the variables come into play with each race.”
Neither Markert nor Moxley had tried cross-country skiing before joining the California National Guard Biathlon team this year.
Moxley, who works full-time as the operations noncommissioned officer in charge for the California National Guard Honor Guard and drills with the 140th Infantry Division Detachment 1 Band, is also a competitive cyclist. He decided to join the biathlon team with the hope that skiing would help rehabilitate an injury to his calf muscle.
“I’ve been watching my fitness improve after finally coming off that crazy injury,” Moxley said. “I’ve gotten my range of motion back, so it’s been really good for rehab.”
Endurance sports, like cycling, carry over in biathlon because cross-country skiing is very anaerobic, Markert said.
“There is no comfort zone in biathlon whatsoever,” Markert said. “Not even in downhill. When you go downhill, the body relaxes just enough for you to realize how exhausted you really are.”
The other challenge for new biathletes is learning how to skate ski, a type of cross-country skiing that takes a lot of practice to master.
“Even if you are in really good shape, you leak all that energy out if you don’t have the [skate skiing] technique,” Moxley said. “You can be as big and strong as you want but without good technique, it’s exhausting.”
Staff Sgt. Leif Devemark, another member of the five-man team, has done biathlon before and has been instrumental in helping the other members of the team learn the skills required of the sport.
Though neither Soldier placed, both saw big improvements in their skiing and marksmanship.
Since this is the first team California has had in many years, the focus has been on learning, development and growth.
The California National Guard Biathlon team is part of the Military World Class Athlete Program funded by Congress as a way to support elite-level military athletes and create a pathway for them to make it all the way to the top.
“We are just now resurrecting this program,” Markert said. “Mobilizations had taken priority and other training requirements took away people’s time.”
This year, team competed in the Western Regionals in Alaska in January. Three of the team members, Markert, Moxley and Devemark also went to the U.S. National Biathlon Championships in Vermont in March.
While those races were funded by the guard, Markert and Moxley participated in the Chuck Lyda Memorial Biathlon on their own time and at their own expense.
“Our team had spoke about it and wanted to show support for this event,” Moxley said. “Chuck Lyda paved the way for Cal Guard Biathlon and his wife still works at the Auburn Ski Club. We wanted to show our appreciation and respect.”