By Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka Joint Force Headquarters
CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. -- Nearly 50 years of Nevada Guard frustration and disappointment in the sport of biathlon melted away like snow in Las Vegas last week as Sgt. Jordan McElroy claimed two medals at the Chief of the National Guard Bureau Championships.
McElroy’s silver in the 12.5-kilometer pursuit race and his bronze in the 10- kilometer sprint were the Nevada Guard’s first men’s open podium results since biathlon became a National Guard-sponsored sport in 1973. Biathlon is the Winter Olympic sport that combines cross country skiing and rifle marksmanship.
Although he had been on the podium in the past while a member of the Vermont National Guard, McElroy’s exemplary results were somewhat surprising considering he barely skied last year while spending the majority of 2020 deployed with 2/238th Aviation in Afghanistan, where he worked as a crew chief aboard the unit’s UH-60 Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopters.
“I was completely shocked looking at the results each day and realizing how fast I was skiing and how good it felt,” said McElroy, 27, of Truckee, California.
While in Afghanistan last year, McElroy said he put his cardio training on the backburner and focused on strength training. He said weightlifting while deployed actually improved a lingering back injury that had affected his skiing for several years.
“Deploying and being able to focus on power and heavy lifting for a year proved to be the best thing for my body and my athletic career,” McElroy said. “I’ve come back so much stronger than I would have been otherwise and it showed on the trails.”
Indeed, McElroy was clearly the fastest skier during the eight day meet that ran Feb. 19-26 at Camp Ripley’s biathlon range. Only some missed shots at the range prevented McElroy from climbing higher onto the podium.
In the men’s 10-kilometer sprint, McElroy hit on five of his 10 targets and finished the 6.2-mile course in 36 minutes, 18 seconds. Jake Ellingson of the Minnesota Guard hit six targets and won in 34:49; Wynn Roberts only missed one shot and garnered silver in 35:52.
In the 12.5-kilometer pursuit, McElroy’s skiing speed was on display as he quickly caught and passed Roberts and moved into second place. He likely would have caught Ellingson with a smaller number of penalty laps, but McElroy missed seven shots (out of 20) while Ellingson remained on target and hit 18 of 20 shots. Ellingson finished in 42:45; McElroy was a scant 1:24 back in 44:09 despite nine misses.
“It was an amazing feeling being able to race and go ‘full gas’ without having back pain for the first time in seven years,” said an ecstatic McElroy.
McElroy was the 2012 California State Cross Country Ski champion and then enlisted in the Vermont National Guard to pursue a spot in the Army’s World Class Athlete Program. That program allows biathletes to train for international and Olympic competitions while on military orders.
McElroy’s back injury led him to return home to Truckee in 2018 and join the 2/238th. With his recent results, however, there is a chance he may rejoin the All-Guard team and pursue high-level competition once again.
In the team competition, the Minnesota Guard placed first in both the men’s and women’s contests.
First Lt. Jessica Miller won two medals at the NGB championships in the women’s novice division in 2020 for the Nevada Guard; then-Sgt. Craig Kenison also won two in the men’s novice division in 2010.
All Soldiers and Airmen in the Nevada Guard are eligible to compete in biathlon. For information on the 2022 season, call 775-887-7250.