When she was in the fifth grade, Jordan Nagel’s teacher had her write a poem on where she sees herself in the future.
She didn’t know what sport, or what event. But the answer was winning a gold medal in the Olympics.
“I’d really like to represent the country,” said Nagel, now a 16-year-old New Paltz High School student. “You don’t want to tell people ‘I want to be in the Olympics’ because most of the time they’ll give you a weird look. But I’ve wanted to do it for a very long time.”
While she may be years away from fulfilling that dream, Nagel has a chance to become a state champion in nordic skiing. And, skiing isn’t even her best sport.
Nagel will compete in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association skiing championships on Monday at Gore Mountain in the greater Lake George area. It will be her third trip to states in as many years, after placing fourth a year ago. But her success in the nordic event has come as a byproduct of her commitment to biathlon.
Three years ago, the New Paltz junior saw biathlon, a unique event that combines cross-country skiing with target rifle shooting, for the first time on television as part of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
At the time, she didn’t ski. And she didn’t shoot. But captivated by what she had saw, Nagel soon transformed her life to revolve around the sport.
During the week, she participates on New Paltz’s varsity skiing team. On the weekends, she trains as a member of the Saratoga Biathlon Club and travels throughout the northeast on a circuit of biathlon competitions with other teenagers — two or three per week — under the guidance of a coach who once directed the United States national team.
The commitment has extended beyond simply training in skis. Nagel’s father, Ron Nagel, said he and her mother Erin are “the taxi, the bank and the support team.” And while Jordan Nagel fits in homework and time with friends to unwind, her’s is not the life of a typical 16-year-old girl. Still, she pursues her dreams.
“I love competition,” she said. “I’ve made this a priority.”
Her family has as well.
“It’s OK to dream about something, but it takes hard work to get there,” her dad, Ron Nagel said. “I don’t think she’s disillusioned by that.”
That hard work paid off on Feb. 14, when Jordan Nagel won the Section 9 championship in the 7.5-kilometer nordic skiing race to earn her trip to the state championships. She’ll travel to Gore Mountain with eight teammates, including Owen Sheekey who won the boys 10-kilometer Section 9 title.
New Paltz skiing coach Ann Gregory said Nagel’s competitive nature might carry her far in the state championships.
“She’s technically good,” Gregory said. “She understands the sport and the competitiveness in her can get her far.”
However, biathlon is the sport in which she hopes to someday earn a spot on an Olympic podium.
In the biathlon, athletes ski a distance of anywhere between 7 to 20 kilometers, then shoot a .22-caliber rifle at five targets positioned 50 meters away. They repeat that several times throughout a course.
The sport, the teenager exclaimed, is “super unique!”
“She’s a big biathlon person,” Gregory said. “Not many people do biathlon around here anymore.”
However, Jordan Nagel doesn’t hunt, and wasn’t experienced in firing rifles before she began competing. She admitted she’s better at skiing than shooting, but her shooting is “definitely coming along.”
Her biathlon coach, Art Stegen, is helping with that improvement.
After Jordan Nagel discovered biathlon — her father recalls the moment when she walked through the living room, spotted the Olympics on television and said “I want to do that!” — Ron Nagel began looking for someone who could help make that happen.
He reached out to Mark Ruoff, a New Paltz resident who participated in the World Junior Biathlon Championships in the 1980s. Ruoff then put the Nagels in touch with Stegen, who competed on the United States biathlon team from 1972-78, taking part in three world championships during that span. Stegen went on to coach the national team for four years.
“He’s very familiar with coaching athletes. He’s one of those people whose opinion holds a lot of weight,” Ron Nagel said of Stegen. “He coaches the mental aspect, and balancing sports and academics.”
Stegen has since coached Jordan Nagel at her weekend races and in the off-season.
And her parents are “here to support Jordan’s endeavors without any pressure,” Ron Nagel said.
Lately, Jordan Nagel has been drawing inspiration from the likes of Lowell Bailey, a member of the United States team for both the 2006 and 2010 Olympic games.
On Feb. 18, Bailey won an International Biathlon Union World Championship in Hochfilzen, Austria, becoming the first American to win a biathlon world championship.
Jordan Nagel was so influenced, she sent him an email.
“I told him that he’s putting biathlon on the map and that it’s so cool,” Jordan Nagel enthusiastically said.
Wide-eyed, she said Bailey emailed her back thanking her.
Each race and competition is providing her with fuel to get better and better, keeping her Olympic dreams alive. Ron Nagel said competing has brought his family “an awful lot of joy.”
“She can take it as far as she is willing to take it,” Ron Nagel said.
Jordan Nagel is maintaining the belief she can live the dream. But, she understands it will come with more and more hard work.
“If this is truly what I want to do and I can dedicate myself to do it, I can get there,” she said. “There’s really nothing stopping me but myself.”
A.J. Martelli: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4836, Twitter: @AJM_PoJoSports
New York State Nordic Skiiing Championships
What/when: Girls 7.5-kilometer classic race, Monday 10 a.m.; Boys 10-kilometer classic race, Monday 11:15 a.m.
Where: Gore Mountain, Lake George
New Paltz athletes competing/grade
Jordan Nagel, 11
Abbey Gravatt, 10
Stephanie Stewart-Hill, 12
Ameila St. John, 9
Kaya Jordan, 12
Willa Butler, 12
Owen Sheekey, 12
Wells Willett, 9
Elijah Tamarchenko, 10
Luke Gerber, 12 (qualified but is unable to compete)