Susan Dunklee celebrates winning the 2nd place at the IBU World Championships Biathlon Antholz-Anterselva on Feb. 14, 2020 in Antholz-Anterselva, Italy.
When Susan Dunklee took up biathlon after graduating from Dartmouth College in 2008, she thought she would compete for a year or two.
But she got hooked. Now, 13 years later, the 35-year-old Vermonter has two world championship medals, several world cup podiums, and two Olympic Games on her resume — with hopefully more to come this winter.
The 2021-2022 season, which opens at the end of November, will be her last competing as a professional biathlete for the Craftsbury Green Racing Project and Team USA. From her home in Craftsbury, Vermont, Dunklee talked about why she chose to stay in biathlon for the last few years and how she set herself up for the next chapter in life.
Her insights and actions are instructional for any athlete nearing the end of her/his career.
Since 2018, Dunklee has been on the fence about retiring from biathlon. As that Olympic year came to a close, she looked around and realized that she wanted to continue helping the U.S. women’s biathlon team.
At that point, Clare Egan and Joanne Reid, a former NCAA cross-country ski champion, had started climbing up world cup results, and a crew of younger biathletes, including Dunklee’s Craftsbury teammate Hallie Grossman, were competing well in IBU Cups (a step below the world cup).
“I didn’t like the idea of leaving at that point because I wanted to leave more of a legacy than just the results I have,” said Dunklee. “I wanted to make sure we had a self-sustaining strong group of women behind me.”
The following season, Egan made her first world cup podium and Reid scored a couple of top 15s, including tenth in the mass start at the 2019 world championships. The U.S. women, Dunklee realized, could be competitive in the relay, where four women each race 6 kilometers and go through the shooting range twice.
During the 2019-2020 season, the U.S. women scored six top ten finishes in the relay, and Dunklee had another breakout performance at world championships, winning the silver medal in the sprint — to go with her silver medal from the 2017 world championships (from the mass start race).
The Covid-19 pandemic sent everyone home before that season ended, and as Dunklee contemplated the 2020-2021 season, she kept training that spring.
“Training gave me purpose and a routine and structure at a time when I really needed it,” she said. “It made a lot of sense for me, coming off of a really successful season with the silver medal, to keep pushing for another year.”