‘Just this’: Life lessons from Olympian biathletes

By Linda Dahlstrom / Starbucks Newsroom

In the moments before Emma Lunder attempts to do what seems impossible, she clears her mind, focuses on the glide of her skis on the snow and listens to the mantra echoing in her mind: “Just This.”

And then, after a few more glides, she goes from skiing as fast as she possibly can, heart pounding, pulse racing and blood pumping to, in the space of about 20 seconds, lowering her heart rate so much that as she swiftly pulls her rifle from behind her back and skis up to the shooting range, she is still enough to instantly shoot with precision.

For Lunder, it’s all part of a day’s work as a biathlete, a sport she recently participated in on the world stage of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. She represented her home country of Canada. Lunder is at the pinnacle of her career in the sport – but she often has to explain what that sport is exactly.

 “Quite often people don’t know what biathlon is,” she said during an interview by phone.

It’s a sport that seems counterintuitive –  a race that combines the speed of cross country skiing with the exquisite calm required to fire a rifle at a target. The way athletes like Lunder are able to quickly get to that moment of Zen is something medical researchers have studied for years.

“It seems bizarre to combine these two things but it turned out to be such a fun sport,” said Lunder, 26, a Starbucks shift supervisor, in Canmore, Alberta, Canada, where the Biathlon Alberta Training Center is located.

Lunder is one of two Starbucks partners from the same store who competed at the Olympics. Sarah Beaudry, a barista, is also part of the Biathlon team. The two have been friends and trained together for years, which made going to the Olympics even richer, said Lunder.  

“When I went to my very first Biathlon BC camp she was there. We’ve always had tons of fun together.”

The making of a champion


Lunder didn’t set out to become a world champion. She originally was in it for the hot chocolate. When she was about 6, her parents and older brother, Angus, decided to start cross country skiing together as a family. Then she and Angus began taking ski classes. “What I was really excited about was that after practice we got hot chocolate,” she said.

When she was 12, the family moved to Vernon, B.C., where they continued cross country skiing and her brother joined the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets, an organization that promotes youth leadership, fitness and more. It also has range and biathlon teams. Lunder wanted to try it.  She’d never held a rifle before, “probably never even seen one,” she said. But that first time she tried it, “I think I hit more targets than him,” she said. (“No comment,” he responded with a laugh.)

She was hooked. “It was such a fun thing to do,” she remembers.

She joined the Sea Cadets herself, was invited to train for biathlon and fell in love with the sport.

Angus remembers watching her star rise as she came into her own. “She’d blow the competition out of the water at the local events. Then she’d go to Nationals and still be right at the top,” he said.

But competing was expensive and Lunder needed to find work to help make ends meet. Shortly before the 2010 Olympics in and around Vancouver, B.C., she applied at Starbucks and got a call from a manager in Squamish, located between Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., who needed to increase staff to accommodate the expected crowds. She was hired.

Lunder went and watched the Olympic games in person and was newly inspired. But then the biathlon team she was on lost its funding. She moved to Canmore, where elite biathletes train, and got a job at the Starbucks there. She also learned about the company’s Elite Athlete Program, which helps provide needed funds to eligible partners in the United States and Canada who compete at the world-class level. The program has funded those who’ve competed in World Championships, Paralympian Rebecca Hart and many others.

Both Lunder and Beaudry have received grants from the program. “To have the place I work support me in my biathlon career means so much,” said Lunder.

That’s the idea, said Erich Ho, manager of the Starbucks Elite Athlete program. “My hope for partners who participate in the program is to accomplish their dreams of achieving their athletic goals,” he said. The program’s main objective is “is to support partners who have worked hard to get to the highest level and help them through the last 10 feet of reaching their goal.”

The best in the world

Getting to the Olympics was not always a straight trajectory for Lunder. But sometimes it’s by how one copes with heartbreak, setbacks and challenges that true champions are revealed.

Lunder had years where she wasn’t qualifying for races or hitting targets and was struggling. Four years ago, she fell while skiing and tore a ligament between her thumb and forefinger on her right hand – her shooting hand. An athletic therapist fitted her with a splint so she could still shoot – despite the pain.

“When you have something like that it’s almost more motivating,” she said. “You want to get back to it.”

These are some of the stories she tells when she volunteers with organizations designed to empower girls in sports. It’s not always winning that matters. It’s getting back up. It’s carrying on. It’s doing your best.

She and Beaudry have reached heights in their careers that many can only dream of. Going to the Olympics, despite not medaling, was life changing, Lunder said.

“The feeling of being surrounded by athletes in the village who are the absolute best in the world was so overwhelming but also inspiring,” she said. “I had so much support from my teammates, as well as friends and family from afar and I think that was the most special part - knowing how many people were cheering for me and supporting me no matter the outcome, and I did everything I could to make them proud.

Now, she’s focused on the future and what’s ahead. And, at the heart of it all, is her love for her sport.

Away from the maddening crowds, Lunder can be found out on the track clearing her mind, listening to the sound of her skis, reminding herself to focus on “just this.” And then, when the time is right, she’ll slow her breathing as she approaches the firing range, notice the feel of the rifle on her shoulder, swing it into position, take a few more calm breaths, point her rifle and pull the trigger.

Starbucks’ Stacey Umezawa contributed to this report.

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