CANMORE – Head injuries and health scares suppressed the race careers of two Canmore-based biathletes over the past few seasons, but ailments or not, the resilient pair have fought back to reach an elite level.
The comeback road has been long and ongoing for Anna Sellers and Mackenzie Turner, who recently were selected to represent Canada at the Junior World Championships in Switzerland in January, one of the biggest events of the season.
“It’s been a hard season and still being able to represent Canada is really big for me,” said Sellers, from Canmore.
Concussions adversely affected Sellers for the past three years, and blood clots in the back of the neck and lower head for Turner, from Gore Bay, Ont., put her racing aspirations on hold for a season.
“I was in the hospital for a week and my season was done then,” said Turner, describing when she was diagnosed in January 2018. “That was a big step back, so it’s exciting to bounce back from a big, blood clot in your head.”
Medication that Turner was using caused the blood clots to form and she went on blood thinners for seven months to cure the ailment. The Rocky Mountain Racer has been good since, but spent the following season getting back to old form.
“I got back into it OK, but I found I was still lagging behind quite a bit and tried to play catch-up, but it didn’t necessarily work the best,” Turner said. “It was so hard not being able to do all the training I wanted because I had to be cautious.”
Sellers was even questionable for the qualifying event after sustaining another concussion a month prior. When cleared, it meant she didn’t train nearly as hard for the important races and relied heavily on ace target shooting.
At junior world trials in December at the Canmore Nordic Centre, the pair of biathletes with previous health issues didn’t know what to expect. After all, the competition between Canadian junior women is airtight and only a few points would separate spots on the team.
Despite all this, Sellers secured fourth and eighth-place finishes in the big races, and Turner had shot and skied her way to sixth and seventh places.
“I didn’t think it was on the table for me to go to junior worlds because I had little health scare in the past,” said Turner, 21. “I wasn’t feeling the best when race season had started, but after I raced good in my first two races, I thought it might be a reality.”
It’s Turner’s first international race, a far cry from the little makeshift ski trials and shooting range she and her father made for her on her Lake Huron island home. For Sellers, she last competed as a youth three years ago – before concussion issues piled up on the 20-year-old.
Other Canadians also selected to junior worlds include Adam Runnalls, Reid Lovstrom, Ryan Elden, Lucas Smith, Larissa Black and Gillian Gowling.
“It was a really big relief [for me], I would say,” Sellers said, a product of Biathlon Alberta Training Centre. “It was really close between me and a few other girls. I was the last person to be selected on the team. It’s a big relief.”
Junior worlds takes place from Jan. 26 to Feb. 2 in Lenzerheide and Sellers expects to meet with Turner beforehand to discuss racing internationally and what to expect.
“In a day or two we’ll get together and talk about the tour," Sellers said.
"I first qualified as a youth and I asked [Senior National Team member] Megan Bankes what to expect, and she mentored me a bit. It’s a big jump from Canada to international racing.”