Lauren aims to be army's snow queen
THEY call it Nordic skiing and it is one of the most gruelling sports in the world.
But it is a sport Paignton youngster Lauren Dawkins is hoping to make her mark in after an impressive debut season that earned her a five gold medals and as many silvers and bronzes in armed forces competitions during the winter.
Lauren, who is 18 and went to Paignton Community and Sports College before joining the Royal Artillery had not stepped into a pair of skis before October last year.
Physical training instructors at 16 Regiment Royal Artillery based in North Luffenham, Rutland, thought Lauren had the makings of a Nordic skier and biathlete.
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They sent her for instruction in the arts of cross-country skiing in Norway, then sat back and watched as she picked up medal after medal in competitions after Christmas.
Lauren has done so well in both disciplines – cross-country skiing and biathlon, where competitors have to stop on the circuit to shoot at targets – she hopes to get into a national squad.
"I think I was picked for training because I am pretty fit and was sent to Norway for six weeks to learn the basics," said Lauren.
"That was followed by two weeks in Austria then a trip to the Divisional Championships in Serre Chevalier in France.
In France they call Nordic skiers 'lungs on legs' as the sport is a real test of fitness and endurance.
Lauren nailed her first set of competitions, winning eight medals in total, competing in the classic events over five and ten kilometres as an individual and in team events.
The next competition was even harder.
"It was a 20k patrol race which included having to navigate and disassemble a grenade on the way round," said Lauren.
"Not only that we had to carry a Bergen (forces issue backpack) and other kit. I was second in that."
Nordic skiing does not have a high profile in this country. Skinny skis and competitors with .22 rifles slung over their shoulders simply don't capture the imagination in the same way as the downhill brigade do.
Nevertheless, Nordic skiing has captured one young lady's imagination and she would like to get ahead in the sport.
"It's brilliant," said Lauren. "There is so much more involved than downhill skiing.
"Biathon is like a cross-country run. When you reach the shooting range you have to slow your breathing down before you start, otherwise you won't shoot well.
"I was a novice this year, but next year I will be classed as a junior.
"There is a national development squad for juniors and I will be aiming for that if I am good enough as it gives you access to all-year-round training."