Local biathlon athlete Cole Bender’s recent trip to compete in Switzerland is just the first of many he expects to take to Europe and beyond as he hones his skiing and shooting skills at the international level.
Skiing since he was seven, Bender is another one of the young skiers to come from the ranks of the Omineca Ski Club.
Now training near Vernon with the Sovereign Lake Nordic Centre’s high performance ski and biathlon team, Bender came to national attention in 2017 when he won a bronze medal at the Canadian Biathlon Championships.
“This put me on the National Under 20 (U20) Development Team and gave me training opportunities with Biathlon Canada. I have been on this team ever since as I medaled at the national level again in 2018 and 2019,” Bender explains of his current status.
His trip to Switzerland solidified last December in Canmore, Alberta at a Biathlon Canada qualifier where the top four male youth and top four female youth were invited.
“I won two golds (individual and pursuit) and one bronze (sprint) and qualified to attend the Youth World Biathlon Championship that was held [two weeks ago] in Lenzerheide, Switzerland,” he said.
With his goal fixed on international competition, the number of races he enters has increased.
“When I was still in high school, I raced about 12 times per year, but now I’m doing many more. This year, I will be doing about 16 biathlon competitions and six cross-country ski races in BC, Alberta and Quebec,” he said.
In getting to where he is now, Bender firmly credits his dad, Wes Bender.
“Ever since I started biathlon 10 years ago, dad started taking coaching courses all over the province to be as helpful as he could be in developing my skills,” Bender continued.
“He has been to practically all of my races coaching me and waxing my skis. He always encouraged me to be the best that I could and to have fun racing. It is no exaggeration to say that without my dad at my side volunteering all his time that there’s no way I would be the athlete I am today.”
Competing as Bender does requires considerable financial resources and like a lot of skiers, family members play a big role.
“My parents have been supporting the vast majority of the costs and using a lot of their time to take my sister and I to competitions and training camps. The Omineca Ski Club, which has amazing trails and a state of the art biathlon range, has provided travel assistance to attend Nationals. Rossignol now sponsors a large part of my ski equipment,” he said.
“My trip to Switzerland was made possible with the support of the Chinook Community Forest, the Burns Lake Community Forest, the Omineca Ski Club and the Burns Lake Fire Rescue. I am very, very grateful to these sponsors. It has been a dream of mine to go compete in Europe and these amazing sponsors made it come true.”
A high school graduate last June, Bender worked for the provincial Wildfire Management Branch as a junior initial attack crew member, providing a double benefit in that it kept him fit and he earned money to finance training full time.
“I am hoping to work with the Wildfire Management Branch again this summer to stay fit, work outside, contribute to resource protection and management and earn money to continue to train and compete,” he said.
In evaluating his own skills, Bender regards himself a strong shooter, particularly in longer competition with four shooting bouts.
“I’ve also done quite well as the anchor on relay teams as I like chasing others and make up a lot of time for my teammate,” he said.
Bender also explains his motivations directly: “To push myself to the limit and see where I stake up against the best in the world as well as supporting Canada and representing my country.”
And while Bender is focused on his next steps, he’s quick to talk about his home region.
“In northern BC, and here in the Lakes District, we have great recreation areas, big snow falls and an amazing ski trail systems at the Omineca Ski Club,” Bender said.