Olympic biathlete Lowell Bailey poses for a photo at the NBC Olympics/U.S. Olympic Committee promotional shoot in April 2013 in West Hollywood, Calif.
Lowell Bailey is a multitasker. Every day the biathlete juggles his two loves: biathlon and music. And on travel days he can be found literally juggling both — trying his best to fit his beloved guitar in with the multitude of ski and rifle equipment his sport requires.
As far back as the guitar and mandolin player can remember he has loved both his Olympic sport and music. But only one of his two passions ran in the family. Both Bailey’s father and uncle were professional musicians.
“For a time that is what my dad did for work,” Bailey said. “He was a singer/songwriter who played in two different bands. But once I showed up he went into teaching because in most cases the life of an up-and-coming musician isn’t that lucrative.”
The fact that not a lot of money can come from playing hasn’t stopped the Sochi hopeful from joining two bands of his own. The accomplished stringed instrument player is a part of two local bluegrass bands in the Lake Placid, N.Y. area, Big Slyde and Swimming With Champy, a bluegrass band he said he formed three years ago with some high school buddies. Both bands have been well received locally.
“It’s great because it allows me to be challenged musically,” he said. “Everyone is such a professional and it keeps me sharp in the music realm.”
Plus Bailey revealed that the two actually complement one other.
“Music and biathlon work really well together because biathlon requires a lot of focus and intensity, and to be able to have these periods where you can get away from all that intensity to sort of occupy your mind with something else — like music — it allows me to be that much more focused when I get back to biathlon.”
Even though he said it is a fine balance, “it goes without saying that biathlon is my career, my job, and it has been that for a long time, so it always takes precedent over anything else in my life. Fortunately I’m in two bands where the members understand that.”
Having a career in sport might make it difficult for Bailey to play as much as he would like, but it doesn’t stop him from playing altogether. The 32-year-old took the time to create the U.S. biathlon team’s theme song, “Fire Them Down,” and makes it a priority to play while on the road — whether at a friend’s bar in Germany or at his team manager’s wedding. “I know that music will always be a huge part of my life.”
Who knows, maybe he could combine his love for music with his love for biathlon and start a band with some of his biathlon teammates?
“There are a couple of girls on the women’s team who are starting to learn guitar, but I think we’d need more practice before a band happens.
“I obviously think it would be incredible to play music for a living, but that being said, I know how difficult that is,” he admitted. “With music I never intended to make it a professional career, and it never has been that for me. It’s been more of something that is important to me and I make a concerted effort to put it in my life and always have it close-by at some capacity.”
He is fully aware that sport — like music — can be a difficult thing to make a living from. “I didn’t get into either of those careers with the intent of making a lot of money,” he said. “With biathlon, as a kid I loved ski racing; and I’ve been fortunate enough to turn it into a career over the years, which is necessary if you want to continue and ski at the Olympic level.”
Growing up in Lake Placid, it was hard for Bailey to not think about the Olympic Winter Games. Despite being a small town it is one that is big in Olympic history.
“I went to middle school and high school being able to look out my English classroom window and you’d see the Olympic oval where Eric Heiden won five gold medals, and then you’d look out the Home Economics window and right across the street was the 1980 hockey arena where the Miracle on Ice happened.”
His introduction to biathlon came when he was a teenager. He had been racing cross-country since he was only four years old, but at 14 he was invited to a camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. That was where he got his first introduction to the sport that combines skiing and shooting. He remembers falling in love with it instantly. “What could be more fun than skiing around and shooting at things?” he said. “It was awesome then and it’s awesome now.
“I’m fortunate to have the opportunities that I have had in biathlon. And be surrounded by a group of people that I really enjoy spending time with — people who are serious about the sport and serious about the goals of winning Olympic medals, and things like that.”
Bailey’s own personal goal is to get on a world cup or Olympic podium this year. “I’ve been so close the past couple seasons and it’s been within seconds many times.”
Accomplishing that goal, he said, “would be the culmination of so many different moments and efforts for not only myself, but also the coaches and the staff that I’ve worked with since I was four or five years old. That’s almost three decades of work that have gone into an event like that.”
But despite how intense that sounds, he said he is trying not to put too much pressure on himself.
“That’s not to say that my entire success or failure in my mind depends on that, but a podium to me represents just the vast amount of work that I’ve never worked harder or longer on anything else in my life.”
One thing is for sure — win or lose, the story of his journey is sure to make for a great song one day.