Eric Prestie of the Preeceville Harvard 606 Air Cadet squadron was selected as the Cadet Coach for Team Saskatchewan at the 2019 Cadet Biathlon Nationals in Brookvale, Prince Edward Island from March 3 to 10.
“It was simply an amazing time,” stated Prestie. "The fact that the event was in Prince Edward Island just made the experience even better. My journey started off by signing up to work at the understaffed regional stage of biathlon, which consisted of running and shooting for only one day.
For the next stage, provincials, he was selected by Benjamin and Zach Larson, Preeceville squadron officers to be the cadet coach for the squadron team.
“My time at provincials was more fun than regionals because it was more official and organized. Provincials were held in Regina in February over three days,” recalled Prestie. “As cadet coach, I was responsible for maintaining the .22 calibre guns used in the competition and providing the necessary several hundred rounds of ammunition for each competition. I also was doing some of the responsibilities of the adult coach which included attending meetings at 7 a.m. and at 10:00 p.m., as well as communicating with our cadets regarding the competition routes. As a result of my performance at provincials, I was recommended by adult officials from provincials to be a cadet coach at the next level, Nationals.”
Originally, he was chosen to be the cadet coach for all of the Northwest Region of Canada, which is Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and the Territories.
"This was a pretty big honour,” Prestie admitted. “I would have been responsible for working with the cadet coaches from each team, but upon arrival the cadet coach for Team Saskatchewan got incredibly sick, which caused the team to be under staffed. To ensure equality between the teams, a decision was made to switch me over to be Team Saskatchewan cadet coach. The cadet coach is the person that is second in command for the provincial team. While I had to do a lot of hard work during the week, I came home with many great memories.”
His responsibilities began daily at 5:30 a.m. with breakfast and sometimes a meeting. He transported the rifles from the storage area about half a kilometer away to the range and then installed the bolts and slings in and on the 10 guns. He got the teams skis organized and ready to race, which was transporting them down to range. Next was to get the team down to the range and ready to race, by ensuring the gun magazines were loaded, zeroing in their guns, making sure they were at the right place at the right time and getting their bib numbers.
When the competition started Prestie was responsible for transporting rifles either from the holding rack to the shooting mat, or from the drop off rack to the starting position rack.
“With about six people on the go at a time, things could get pretty chaotic,” he stated.
While the Saskatchewan athletes raced, Prestie cheered them on from the side lines so they wouldn't lose morale over time. When the competition for the day was done, he would have to repeat all of these steps but in reverse, which led to a very long day.
“When we finally got packed up and arrived back at the hotel there was always a coaches meeting waiting for me at 9:00 p.m.,” he said.
"Over the course of five days of training and competition, my job at Nationals had me load over 3000 rounds of .22 ammunition into magazines for the 10 Team Saskatchewan members."
The competition had 16 teams competing with some provinces having more than one team. Team Saskatchewan had two members from La Ronge and eight members from Regina.
The Team Saskatchewan adult coach was also from Regina.
The two members from La Ronge have each now been to Nationals three years in a row. A few of the members from Regina have been to Nationals for two straight years.
“Personally my favourite race was called the Patrol race,” explained Prestie. “This race consists of teams of two to four members working together to spot the target, shoot, crossfire and reload clips for the next teammate. Then they go and ski a few kilometers, and return to the range to switch shooters. All team members have to have to be within 30 meters of one another all the time or a penalty is issued.
“Every team starts and finishes on the range. On the first, second and third lap, two members shoot at five targets, one shot each with penalties are given for missed targets. Then, for the fourth and final lap two people had to shoot until they hit all of the 10 targets. As soon as the targets were cleared, their time stops.
“Throughout the entire race each person had to carry a certain number of rolled up blankets strapped to a backpack-like contraption on their back. This race was meant to re-enact working as a team in combat, which is why I liked it so much,” stated Prestie.
Other races that the team members competed in were a sprint race, relay race and mass start. The distance each competitor skied was between 4.5 and 10 km per race, depending on their age category.
“In addition to seeing the Brookvale Biathlon Course, our trip included flying into Toronto, and then into Moncton. When we were on the ground, we got bussed over the Confederation Bridge which is 12.9 km long over the Abegweit Passage of Northumberland Strait. Our destination was Summerside P.E.I where we lived for the week. We got the privilege of going to downtown Charlottetown for an awards ceremony on Thursday and went to Dieppe, New Brunswick on Sunday before coming home.
"Over the course of my journey I made good friends that I will keep in contact with for a long time. I was given amazing opportunities that not many people get to experience thanks to the cadets program in our community," concluded Prestie.