Theo Castonguay: Olympian in the Making

backpack and mountains LESS BLUE
Theo Castonguay (‘22) stops to admire the wind blowing off the mountains on his way to the lodge. The temperature is only three degrees, and with the wind chill it feels much below zero. Despite this, he’s dressed lightly. Once he begins skate skiing, he’ll warm up quickly. He stays optimistic and says, “every day spent training is a good day.” Ever since Castonguay was young, he has dreamed of competing in the Olympics. Now with a first place victory under his belt at the 2018 Summer Biathlon National Championship, fourth place at the 2018 Winter Biathlon National Championship, and his regimented daily training schedule, his dream is becoming a more likely possibility. Biathlon is a sport that combines Nordic skate skiing and smallbore shooting. Racers ski a section (distance varies), come into the range, and shoot five shots with .22 caliber ammunition at a reactive metal target. Castonguay’s involvement in biathlon has led him to many people, opportunities, and experiences that he would not have had without the sport. Theo’s mother, Lynne Castonguay, says, “the best parts of life happen outside your comfort zone… and I’m grateful my son is having these cool experiences!”
Theo young
March of 2013: Castonguay competes in his first nordic skate race and is delighted to come in second place. Castonguay grew up in an active, outdoorsy family with a love for hiking and skiing. “I think being exposed to the outdoors and unique experiences all their life has fostered a passion in our kids,” says Lynne. Theo and his sister are both almost done hiking NH’s 48 4,000 foot mountains, a goal they set when they were in elementary school. The family began skiing together every weekend in the winter when both kids were very young. When Theo was nine, his parents signed him up for Bill Koch League, a nordic program for kids, so he could ski with other kids and learn more skills. That year he did his first nordic race, the BKL Mt. Washington Cup. Lynne says, “we were surprised when he came in second. It was really exciting, given his age, size, and newness to the sport.” In 2014, Castonguay tried biathlon for the first time at Jackson Biathlon and was immediately in love. “I have a learning disability so a lot of things don’t come naturally to me, but when I found biathlon, even though it didn’t click immediately, I felt encouraged by the quick progress I was making. And right away, I liked the smell of the gunpowder, and the feeling of the cold,” says Casonguay. He joined the team that year and has been competing for four seasons. He now works with different members of the US biathlon staff including Eastern Regional Coach, Algis Shalna, and recently spent a week in Utah with US Development Manager and retired Olympian, Tim Burke.
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Castonguay takes a picture at the 2019 Biathlon World Cup in Utah with Lisa Vittozzi, an Italian biathlete who captured a bronze medal at the 2015 Biathlon World Championships. Castonguay was able to go to Utah with the US development team camp for high altitude training at 6,000 feet. Athletes ran every morning, worked out mid day, skied during the afternoon, and watched World Cup races throughout the day. On Castonguay’s first day of the camp February 2019, athletes got to partake in a mock World Cup race which the TV crews used to get angles in preparation for the real World Cup. He says, “training in a new location is really exciting. In terms of venues, Soldier Hollows in Midway, Utah is the best of the best in the US.” Castonguay is most grateful for the people he meets through biathlon. When he goes to these big national races, everyone’s focused on the same thing. There’s a shared passion. He says, “at a lot of the big races, there are lots of pros, and a lot of people like me who want to go pro. It feels like a big family, because the pros know that a lot of us will eventually be teammates.” He often walks into new situations, such as races or training programs, alone, and has to figure things out for himself. Lynne says, “he is affable, a people person. He isn’t afraid to make new friends and ask lots of questions and learn from others.” This particular trip to Utah, Castonguay made new friends but also had the opportunity to meet up with his best friends from all over the country, who he only sees a couple times a year. “It was really cool to see my friend and Conway, NH local, Sean Doherty, have a career best,” says Castonguay.
Theo collapsed
Theo collapses after pouring everything he had into his race. What makes Castonguay successful? “In one word, Theo has grit,” says Lynne. She continues, “he willingly and happily makes sacrifices to pursue his dream. When he fails or has a tough day, he picks himself up by the bootstraps to try again until he gets it right.” Early in the season at a five kilometer skate race, Castonguay broke a pole in the first kilometer while in third place. He fell twice and struggled up the hills. Someone threw him a pole in the last kilometer and he made up six places to still finish in the top ten. Lynne says, “most people give up when they break a pole, but not Theo.” Castonguay says that, “there are always bad days either in training or races, which can be demoralizing, but you have to keep faith that the person who outworks everyone will win.”
scope in focus
Castonguay prepares to begin a shooting session. The scope in the foreground will help Castonguay assess his accuracy afterwards. Accuracy is important because if athletes miss the target, they have to do a penalty lap for each miss. Then they ski another leg and shoot again. This is repeated two to four times depending on the race distance and they always ski a final leg to the finish. When they are lying down, the target 50m away is the size of an Oreo cookie, and when they shoot standing up, it is the size of a CD.
standup shooting close WITH SNOW
Castonguay does a round of standing shooting. “It’s interesting to be putting everything you have into something, and most people don’t even know what it is. They’ll say, ‘that’s swimming and skiing, right?’” says Castonguay. And out of those who do know about biathlon, there are mixed feelings. In middle school, some of Castonguay’s classes watched videos for ‘Brain Breaks’ and students were able to choose the video. Whenever Castonguay suggested watching biathlon footage, his teacher would not let the class watch it because it involves guns. “When people are afraid of something, they push it away, but it’s beneficial to know how to handle a gun safely,” says Castonguay. Many biathletes don’t even think that it is a “shooting sport.” “We generally consider rifles the same way we consider our skis and poles: it is just another piece of sporting equipment, without which we can not do our sport,” says Castonguay’s first coach, Wayne Peterson. Castonguay feels that, “the beauty of the sport is to focus, and stay present. You have to block out everything else. You can’t think about a family member who died, or whether you left your stove on.” This meditative state is reached for Castonguay when he’s shooting.
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Castonguay’s coach, family, and friends would also describe him as self disciplined and motivated. He doesn’t need to be reminded to train. It’s second nature to him to get up before school to run, ski, rollerski and/or shoot and come home and immediately head out to the range for an hour before starting homework. Additionally, he does all of this alone. “He doesn’t get that satisfaction that other kids do when they’re on team sports because he doesn’t get to share his accomplishments with other people,” says Ted Castonguay, Theo’s father. Luckily, Castonguay feels the cross country skiing and biathlon communities to be very supportive ones. “This is a cool sport because everyone is so down to earth and really friendly,” says Lynne.
Castonguay’s journals are evidence of his focus. Ted says, “when individuals are willing to write down what they want and how they plan on doing it, and put it down in writing, it shows a lot of determination and direction.” Castonguay keeps a goal journal where he writes down his goal for the day, regardless of whether he will be training or racing, and he also keeps a shooting log, and a workout log. In his shooting log, he tracks the number of rounds he completes, his number of dry fires (meaning rounds without ammunition which are just to practice the sensation of shooting), and his accuracy. By tracking his accuracy, he’s able to see trends of which targets he is missing and work on that in the future. Castonguay keeps record of everything because he likes being able to look back and see his progression. In addition to reflecting, he also always thinks ahead. “Theo’s always saying, ‘how can I be better?’, and he goes about it with the right attitude,” says Eli Nelson, a fellow biathlete and a staff member at the Great Glen Trails Nordic Center where Castonguay skis at. He adds that Castonguay is a great listener, and is open minded to anything that can help him improve.
Lynne prepares Castonguay’s lunch before school. She has already set out An omelette, Three pieces of breakfast sausage, Four banana pancakes, AND a protein shake on the counter for Castonguay when he comes downstairs before school. This is just breakfast for Castonguay, who eats roughly 5,000 calories a day, more than double the average intake of 2,000, in order to fuel his body for the intense exercise he does. He keeps a well rounded diet that consists primarily of protein to build muscle fiber, carbohydrates for energy, and vegetables for micronutrients. He explains that dessert and junk food are empty calories, so he avoids them.
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Castonguay’s high calorie intake is necessary for the amount of training he does. Pictured above is Castonguay starting his workout with a set of squats. He works out six days a week, completing two to three training sessions per day. This includes cardio (biking, running, or skiing), shooting at least 50 rounds, and strength (lifting or calisthenics).
loading gun
Castonguay loads his gun with .22 caliber ammunition. The support that Castonguay receives from his family has been integral to his success. They drive hours every weekend so that he can practice and compete in races. Furthermore, Lynne even went through certification (through the school and the NHIAA) to become Castonguay’s nordic coach so that he was able to compete in high school nordic racing. Up until this year, Oyster River has had no nordic ski team, but the creation of such allows Castonguay to get in more ski racing practice to aid his biathlon races. “It was important for Theo to get more competitive ski time. The only way to get him to tow the line was for me to become his coach. In becoming a coach, I learned that there is a lot more to coaching than coaching. There is a lot of paperwork and logistics that I hadn’t anticipated. But I’ve learned a lot and really enjoyed it,” says Lynne. While she schedules his races and handles all of the logistics, Ted is the most involved with his technique and training, although he’s not the official coach on paper. Castonguay says, “my dad had no coaching experience, but once he saw I was interested in this, he started reading as many books and watching as many videos as possible on the sport. He’s always been there for me.” Lynne and Ted also helped Castonguay build a range at their home for him to practice on. “We have enough land for a very safe practice area. We framed out a platform to shoot on, a bridge, and a backboard for his target and I ordered a target from a company in New York, and cleared things with the police and Fish and Game. This way he is able to shoot daily,” says Lynne.
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Two of Castonguay’s books on biathlon are on his kitchen table. Right now, Castonguay doesn’t see college as an immediate priority because he wants to have a career in biathlon, and he doesn’t see himself being able to do that after college. He says, “biathlon always keeps me reading, and seeking new information, so although I may not receive a Bachelor’s degree, I will always be learning. College is also equally about experiences and meeting new people, which I have the opportunity to do through this sport. I get to travel and meet new people constantly.” Ted says that he’s confident that Castonguay will do well in life whether he decides to go to college or not. He adds, “I meet lots of people who take a different path and also do equally well.”
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Benjamin Weger, a Swiss biathlete who has competed in three Olympics, gave this bib to Castonguay while in Utah. It was one of his last races, as he is retiring this year. Castonguay was also able to get signatures from many other competing athletes. Watching the World Cup in person is a unique experience for anyone in the US because it is usually in Europe, so this trip was especially exciting. Castonguay has had a great nordic season and has since been selected into the highly competitive NH U16 Eastern Championship team. His goal is to go to the 2022 Olympics and eventually compete professionally in the International Biathlon Union. He has a lot of races to compete in and tasks to complete on the road to fulfill his journey. Next up, he hopes to win the national championships in March, and qualify for the youth team so he can compete in the Youth World Championships.