Golf clubs and sports rifles: Chloe Levins ’20 aims straight and true

By BENJAMIN GLASS

When Levins shot a gun for the first time at the age of 13, she didn’t know what to expect. At a three-day summer sports camp in Craftsbury, Vt., Levins was handed a .22 caliber sport rifle in an introductory clinic to the biathlon — the Olympic discipline that combines lung-busting nordic skiing laps and technically challenging shooting. Levins had nordic skied for many years in her homestate of Vermont, but had never tried this  multidisciplinary sport — and had never even thought about shooting a rifle. That day, Levins fired one for the first time.

“There wasn’t as much kick as I thought there would be,” Levins recalled, as she sat in the lobby of Middlebury’s Athletic Center on the second Friday of September. “I remember watching movies with these giant machine guns kicking back at you, but [sports rifles] are not like that at all.” 

At camp that summer, Levins realized that the elements of shooting — the necessity for focus and control — were athletic qualities that would complement the sport of nordic skiing that she already loved. 

“I could see immediately how the biathlon would challenge my mind and not just my body,” she said. 

STRONG HEART, 

STEADY HAND

Fast forward seven years to today. Levins is a senior at Middlebury College, but her endeavors with the biathlon have spanned way beyond the scope of collegiate athletics. Levins is currently featured on the international stage, competing as a member of the U.S. national team in two circuits across Europe and the United States. She currently races with a host of other Vermont natives, including Emily Dreissigacker from Morrisville, Susan Dunklee from Barton and Bates College alumnus Hallie Grossman from South Burlington.

Although Levins’ success in biathlon would come within less than a decade after her introduction to the sport, the foundations of her athletic career were built at a young age. Her father, James Levins ’75, raced on Middlebury’s alpine ski team, and her parents moved their family to Rutland, Vt. right after Levins was born to raise her and her three siblings in a better skiing environment. Chloe Levins started competing in nordic skiing events at the age of four. 

“My dad supported my siblings and me in nordic skiing, but taught us how to alpine ski as well,” she said. “My earliest memories are of skiing with my family near our home in Vermont. My dad used to pull me along while I hung onto his poles so I could keep up with my older siblings.”

During high school, Levins raced for Rutland’s nordic team in her freshman and sophomore years. She maintained focus on riflery on her own until her junior year in 2015, when she qualified for her first international biathlon competition. That winter, she competed in the Baltic Cup in Sweden and the Youth World Championships in Belarus. Thus began her career as a biathlete on the world stage. The next year, as a youth competitor, Levins placed fourth in pursuit at the Youth Biathlon World Championships in Slovakia. In 2018, at Junior Worlds, Levins placed sixth in pursuit and seventh  in sprint. The next year, she placed 10th in pursuit. 

COURTESY PHOTO

Although Levins joined Middlebury’s nordic ski team a few weeks into her freshman year, she quit almost immediately. Instead of racing nordic for Middlebury, Levins has taken every winter term between the fall and spring semesters to race the biathlon internationally. 

“Biathlon removes me from a lot of the ‘college scene’ of Middlebury,” she said. “Most of my free time is spent driving to training, traveling or catching up on work.” When she is at Middlebury, Levins trains twice a week in Jericho, an hour north of Middlebury. 

Algis Shalna, who coaches Levins in biathlons, can testify to her discipline. 

“Chloe is probably the best [biathlete] I have ever coached,” Algis said. “She’s the most dedicated, the most passioned, with very high discipline and unbelievable self-drive to be the best she can be.”

COURTESY PHOTO Levins in Lillehammer, Norway, finishing fourth in the 7.5 km biathlon pursuit at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games. She has represented the United States on the international stage for the past five seasons.

Levins also shows gratitude for how her hard work has paid off. 

“I consider myself extremely lucky to get the opportunity to travel throughout Europe in the winter,” Levins said. “Traveling during the school year is difficult, but the rush I get while competing in a sport I love with Team USA on my back makes it all worthwhile.”

Levins says some of the most exciting moments in the sport occur  when she is coming into the shooting range after a nordic skiing lap for a round of target shootings. 

 “You’re skiing as hard as you can. Usually my heart rate is 180–190. We come into the range and focus on our breathing and relaxation, and we do body scans,” she said.  “I have pinpoints on my body that I choose to relax: my neck, where the gun rests in my right shoulder and my right forearm.” 

Levins will focus on the five targets that she has to hit. She has only five rounds, and for every target she misses, she has to do an extra penalty lap. 

“It’s just the best feeling to see the target go from black to white when you shoot,” she said. 

IRONS AND GREENS

In addition to her Nordic career, Chloe Levins is also a nationally-acclaimed golfer and the current captain of the Middlebury College golf team. Most recently, in early August, Levins beat out over 40 other competitors for first  place in the Vermont State Women’s Golf Association (WGA) amateur championship at the Ralph Myhre Golf Course in Middlebury. 

Levins’ golf career started at a similarly young age as when she began nordic skiing, because her mother was a professional golfer.  

“She taught all of us how to play golf when we could walk,” Levins said. “I didn’t go to preschool or anything, I would just go play golf with her, hold a club in one hand, and try to keep up.”

Levins started competing  in golf tournaments at a young age as well. In high school, she won three state golf championships. Her winning streak continued at Middlebury. In her first semester at Middlebury, Levins won the NESCAC Championships at Ralph Myhre Golf Course by six strokes, and won again her junior fall by four strokes. Last spring, at the NCAA Championships in Houston, Texas, Levins placed 18th out of 131 competitors. 

This summer, before the WGA championship, Levins was preparing for an average result. “I didn’t have any expectations going into the match. I wasn’t nervous but I was preparing myself for any sort of play. I was expecting to play worse than I did. I was a little too comfortable on the last day, so it got really close at the end. It was a good warmup tournament for the fall season.”

The Middlebury golf team has had three tournaments so far this season with the George Phinney Jr. Golf Classic this coming weekend. NESCAC qualifiers will be hosted October 5–6 at Williams College. 

HABITS OF SPORT

Levins often receives comments that golf and the biathlon are so different that there is no crossover between the two sports. Levins disagrees with this sentiment, at least partially. 

“Golf is much more mentally difficult because you can take as much time as you need [for a shot],” she said. “In golf, there are also so many more variables in conditions, weather, etc. … Managing variability is a skill I take from golf and apply to biathlon.”

Still, the biathlon carries its own set of mental challenges. For Levins, the biathlon is a sport where you can get ahead of yourself and not focus on the presence of the competition. 

“It is easy to make if–then statements about if I do this right, then I can win this section of the race,” she said. “With the biathlon, you just need to stay present.”

Levins will continue to compete at Middlebury during golf season, and internationally in the biathlon come winter. Outside of the greens and tracks, Levins is a pre-med neuroscience major. One of the biggest struggles about dedicating a large portion of her time to athletics is that college can be a place of distraction and difficulty. “Being a student–athlete at Middlebury requires ridiculous timemanagement skills,” she said. “Every day of the week is planned out to the minute in order to maximize productivity.”

Additionally, she said her parents helped her remain focused on her athletic endeavors. 

“I think my parents did a really good job of instilling hard work and joy in me and my siblings,” she said. “Now being outdoors and exercising and challenging my mind has just become a habit I continue to enjoy because of how I was raised and where I grew up.”

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