Photo by JEFF STOKOE/Advocate staff-Olympian visits - Josh has story-Eastview Middle School grade six student Hailey Lenius takes a selfie with Canadian National Team biathlete Zina Kocher of Red Deer. Kocher visited the middle school Thursday sharing her Olympic experiences with the students.

A chance to connect and inspire

Zina Kocher has travelled the world competing in biathlon, but on Thursday the three-time Olympian found herself back where it all began. The Red Deer native was speaking at Eastview Middle School as part of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Heroes tour — a final salute to the athletes who competed at the Sochi Winter Games.

Zina Kocher has travelled the world competing in biathlon, but on Thursday the three-time Olympian found herself back where it all began.

The Red Deer native was speaking at Eastview Middle School as part of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Heroes tour — a final salute to the athletes who competed at the Sochi Winter Games.

For Kocher, 31, it was a chance to give back to a school that was key in her development as an athlete and a person.

“It was awesome. I haven’t been back to Eastview since I went to Eastview many years ago, and its always great to connect with kids and inspire them,” she said.

The biathlon combines cross-country skiing and rifle range shooting. It is a speed event where at different stages of the race they have take out their rifle and, from a prone position, hit a series of targets before moving on to the next stage. Competitors are penalized for misses.

Kocher has competed in the last three Winter Games — Turino in 2006, Vancouver in 2010 and most recently Sochi in February — but it was while she was a student Eastview that she discovered skiing and eventually was encouraged to go into biathlon.

Her ability to set goals and meet them was a big reason she developed into one of Canada’s best in the sport, and was the theme of her talk with the assembled students.

“When you get into sport you begin to realize the need to set goals, but you can’t just set the results goal, you have to set all the things that get you to that result goal,” said Kocher.

In Sochi, her best finish was eighth in the women’s 4×6 km relay, also placing 25th in the 10k pursuit, 32nd in the 7.5k sprint and 63rd in the 15k individual. She also finished 43rd overall in the World Cup standings.

But she is unsure if she will still be competing when the next Olympics rolls around in 2018 in PyeoångChang South Korea.

“I’m not sure about the (next) Olympics, it will take me at least a year to consider that, but definitely this was my best year as a cross-country skier as a physical aspect … so that’s inspiring me to at least push myself for the next two years,” said Kocher. “I’m at a level where I can be on the podium every weekend, it’s just a matter of putting both the shooting and the skiing together on the right day.”

The Heroes Tour is part of the Celebration of Excellence and started in Ottawa on Wednesday, as they were acknowledged on the floor of the House of Commons, and will wrap up today in Calgary with the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame and Gala and Induction Ceremony. On Thursday, more than 200 athletes hit schools in Alberta, including 16 different schools in Central Alberta.

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