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Tough as nails: Follow your dreams

July 18, 2023
This is the first of a two-part series about pushing mental and physical limits, courage and extraordinary resilience. Stay tuned for part two!

She pioneered and dominated the women’s Nordic Combined World Cup for years and ski jumping before that. Now, she’s making headlines at the IBU Biathlon World Cup. Meet Tara Geraghty-Moats (USA).

From ski jumping and Nordic combined champion to making it to the biathlon World Championships a year after switching: Meet women’s rights ambassador Tara Geraghty-Moats (USA).

After pioneering and dominating both the ski jumping and Nordic Combined World Cup for years, Tara decided to pick up a rifle last year and try her hand at biathlon in 2021. “Dream on,” you might say. And that’s exactly what Tara did. 

Now, she is heading into her second season on the IBU Biathlon World Cup, aiming for a spot on the US team to the 2024 IBU Biathlon World Championships. 

Madshus caught up with the bold and ambitious 30-year-old from Craftsbury, Vermont, on leaving Nordic Combined, making the switch and her plans for pursuing biathlon.“It was never something I thought possible: to be the first-ever to compete in World Championships in Nordic combined, ski jumping, and biathlon, three different sports. I hope this shows young athletes that following non-traditional paths leads to unexpected achievements.” 

Photo by: Nordic Focus

How did you like your first season on the IBU Biathlon World Cup? 
“It was pretty unexpected to be on the World Cup level at the start of my second season after switching to biathlon. I was expecting to race in the IBU Cup, but the step up to the World Cup was thrilling. I was sad I wasn't in the mix at the World Cup level yet, but just the chance to ski at the 2023 Oberhof World Championships was amazing. The crowds were insane at World Champs, especially because it took place in the biathlon Mecca: Oberhof, Germany.” 

Why did you choose to switch over to biathlon? 
“I switched from Nordic combined to biathlon two seasons ago. Stepping away from Nordic combined after the 2020/2021 season was a very challenging choice. I certainly didn't stop Nordic combined because I had lost my love for the sport.”

Tara explains that lack of support was the major reason for her switch. 

“I ultimately stepped away from Nordic combined because the level of support I had was not enough. I will say there were a lot of people who tried to help me, and I was able to fundraise and work so I could compete. Unfortunately, every year it took so much energy, and money just to get to the starting line. My entire Nordic combined career felt like I was the owner of an amazing race car with no source of fuel. It never mattered how good I was doing. I never knew if I could afford to go to the next competition, or even pay my phone bill,” she says, 

Tara points out that she didn’t just lack funding. She didn’t have access to coaching or relevant training opportunities, or even medical care. 

“During my time on the national team, I was not allowed to train with the USA Nordic combined men's team. So, I often trained completely alone or with juniors 10 years younger than me. It was very strange. Looking back, I honestly don't know how I did so well. I was struggling to have basic essentials for good results like getting enough time on the jumping hill, being able to test skis, and having ski jumping suits to compete with, Tara says and continues: 

“On top of it all, if and when I did get hurt, I didn't have access to medical care. Women's Nordic combined wasn’t and isn’t an Olympic sport, so I didn't fall under the US Olympic Committee's care. I raced - and won - with totally fractured ribs at one point because I didn't have access to an x-ray. I just thought I had bruised ribs. Two weeks later when I got home and could get an x-ray that insurance my covered, I found out that I had two fully fractured ribs.” 

While a major setback, this was not a standalone incident. But ironically, her resilience and ability to bounce back and return to the sport limited her support.  

“There are other stories like this. I didn't realize it at the time, but looking back, I was lucky to walk away from things like that. Most of the time people thought because I was winning, I must have had what I needed, and been OK. If I asked for help or resources, I was often told I didn't appreciate what I had was being ungrateful. There was no possible way I could reach my potential as an athlete in an environment like this,” Tara explains. 

But rather than quitting, the frustration led her to look for alternate solutions to pursue her dreams and goals.  

“I am very grateful for the support I received from sponsors, friends and fans. I am very proud of what I accomplished in Nordic combined. I miss competing, and the friends I made, so very much, but I am so thankful that biathlon was a possibility for me. I have really enjoyed having more support and being able to just focus on getting better at biathlon. I'm also thankful I get to spend a little more time at home with family and friends than I did in Nordic combined.”  

Photo by: Nordic Focus

How difficult was the transition to biathlon? 
“Less difficult than I thought it was going to be. Standing shooting is still really inconsistent and hard for me, but at the end of the day, I made the World Championships team about a year after my first international race back doing biathlon. So, the progress has been good, even if I still have a lot to improve. 

Was there anything from your previous skiing careers that gave you an advantage or was transferable to biathlon? What has been the biggest challenge? 
“Biathlon and Nordic combined are very similar in many ways. It takes a lot coming together to have a good day, and a ‘perfect’ day is rare in both sports - even for champions. The mentality of shooting and jumping are very similar. The technicalities are quite different. The satisfaction of a good jump or a good stage is again very similar. On good days, everything goes into slow motion, and it feels easy and effortless. Just right now, the good days with biathlon are harder to find.”

What are some of the biggest take-aways from your first biathlon World Cup season? 
“Don't put limits on goals. Surround yourself with people who care about you and believe in you. Make plans and follow them. Eat good snacks. Make time for friends and fun times.” 

Will you go back to ski jumping or Nordic combined, or will you continue to pursue biathlon? 
“I'm going to take it one year at a time and base my decisions off results and opportunities. I'm very thankful to Madshus for supporting this level of freedom. I have always competed in the sport that gave me the most opportunities. I don't think that will change. Skiing is just skiing at the end of the day, as long as I get to travel the world and compete on skis, I'm a very, very lucky woman.”

Do you recommend taking such a leap? 
“I recommend all athletes put their mental and physical wellbeing first in their career and do what they need to do to keep themselves happy and healthy. In the long run this will lead to being a better athlete as well, even if in the short team it seems scary.”

Photo by: Nordic Focus