Emily Dickson, biathlon, 12-time national champion
Emily Dickson has faced her share of setbacks on her path to the Winter Olympics.
The first time Olympian has been competing in the biathlon for half her life, but it didn’t come without bumps in the road before getting the chance to compete at the highest level.
While roller skiing in Sept. 2019, the 24-year-old suffered a significant concussion in a fall that left her unable to compete for a full season – the first time since she was eight.
But while the three-and-a-half month recovery period led to a lost season, it gave her a deeper appreciation to her training.
“I think coming out of it, it made me have a better connection to my body, slow down and connect with my body to know if I’m pushing too hard,” she said.
“It’s not like a broken bone where you get an X-ray and get a timeline. I had no way to monitor the recovery so it was frustrating. It helped me tune into my body and that’s helped me moving forward.”
This season has been getting back into the right flow while also targeting – and achieving – the goal of making the Canadian Olympic team.
Though significant, it wasn’t Dickson’s first time struggling through a challenge outside her control.
In 2015, she noticed her body wasn’t reacting the normal way it was used to when training. Her race results and performances weren’t to the quality she expected.
She initially thought she wasn’t training hard enough, so would push harder that led to more backward than forward steps.
It wasn’t until she was diagnosed with celiac disease – a long-term autoimmune disorder – that she began the lengthy path of getting back to her previous success.
“When I did get the medical diagnosis, I had really dug myself into a pretty big hole just from being burnt out and undernourished while training. It took a couple of years to get back to a normal level of energy. I didn’t feel great until 2018. It taught me a lot about myself and how I react as an athlete. It helped me get better in-touch with my body, so I learned a lot from that process.”
While frustrating at the time, she credits working through both challenges as part of her journey to the Olympic team.
“To be able to go through both those things and still be able to make this goal happen, the Olympics are so challenging because you only get one shot every four years and if you miss one it’s another four years. With everything that’s happened for me in the last four to eight years, I’m really excited to be nominated to this team.”
The local of Burns Lake, B.C. first tried biathlon at eight and started competing the following year.
Coming from a cross-country skiing loving family, her older sister Allie – who competed provincially – recommended she try biathlon.
Dickson began taking the sport more seriously at about 13 and after winning gold at her first nationals – competing against athletes two years older – it “lit a flame” and opened the door for a future in biathlon.
After completing her final three years of high school in Prince George at a school specializing in sports, she came to Canmore in 2015.
Dickson went through the IBU youth world circuit, competed in the IBU junior world championships from 2017-19 and made her IBU senior race debut in the 2018-19 season. She also brought home a haul of medals from provincial and national competitions.
In the leadup to the Olympics, she had an inkling she could be named to the team the closer the announcement was expected. A Google document available to all biathletes tracked the rankings as each race passed and she maintained a good spot for wearing the red and white.
“You don’t want to assume anything until it’s finished, so there was a lot of stress until those last moments. it’s surreal when it finally happens,” said Dickson of the official email that slid into her inbox from Heather Ambery, the general manager for Biathlon Canada, while she was travelling with fellow Olympians Sarah Beaudry and Megan Bankes.
While it hadn’t fully set in for Dickson, she said the Games will be a moment she’ll never forget.
“I’m so proud to be able to represent Canmore, Burns Lake, Canada and to be chosen as one of the few representatives of a country is a huge deal. I’m going to feel proud when I’m with my teammates, wearing the gear, representing the country.”