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Summer To Winter? No Problem As Two-Sport Star Kendall Gretsch Keeps Racking Up Medals

by Alex Abrams

Kendall Gretsch competes in the sprint biathlon during the 2023 Para Nordic Skiing World Championships on Jan. 21, 2023 in Oestersund, Sweden.

 

Kendall Gretsch didn’t get to enjoy much of an offseason because of the way the schedule worked out this winter.

 

The two-sport star travelled to Abu Dhabi to compete in the 2022 paratriathlon world championships in late November.

 

After earning a silver medal, Gretsch spent an extra day in the United Arab Emirates to hang out with her teammates before returning to the U.S. to get ready for the start of the Para Nordic skiing season.

 

“When I came back to the U.S., I took about a week off from training before starting Nordic training for the season,” Gretsch said last week from Östersund, Sweden, where she was competing in the Para Nordic world championships.

 

“Since I leave home for the entire winter, I used that time to pack for the winter season in addition to taking a mental break from training.”

 

By now, Gretsch, 30, is accustomed to quickly transitioning from one sport to the next without much of a break. The six-time Paralympic medalist competes as a triathlete in the summer and a Nordic skier once there’s snow on the ground. She’s won Paralympic gold medals in both sports.

 

It’s a fast turnaround, but Gretsch said she has learned over the past six years how to keep her body in shape so she can handle the physical toll it takes to be a world champion in two different endurance sports.

 

The native of Downers Grove, Illinois, made it look easy at the Nordic world championships. She dominated the women’s sit skiing division despite having a busy, weeklong schedule in Östersund.

 

Gretsch won a world title in all but one of the six individual biathlon and cross-country skiing events she competed in at the world championships. The only event she didn’t take the gold in was the cross-country sprint race, instead settling for the silver.

 

Gretsch capped off her impressive showing at the world championships by helping the Americans win gold in the mixed 4x2.5-kilometer relay on Sunday’s final day of the competition. She skied the third leg, winning her seventh medal in seven days.

Kendall Gretsch competes in the middle-distance biathlon during the 2023 Para Nordic Skiing World Championships on Jan. 25, 2023 in Oestersund, Sweden.

 

“I put in a really good training block leading up to this, so I really wanted to push myself in all of the races,” Gretsch told USParaNordicSkiing.org. “Managing the whole week, it’s a lot of races, so trying to prepare and recover is something I’ve learned how to do over time.”

 

Gretsch said her overall fitness and endurance has helped her transition from paratriathlons to Nordic skiing throughout the year. Still, she said needs time to build back those specific muscles she uses in each sport.

 

“There are different technical aspects of each sport that come easier than the other, but both require the same amount of training to be competitive at the top level,” said Gretsch, who was born with spina bifida. “As endurance sports, they both require long hours of training to be competitive.”

 

Gretsch put that training to the test during a grueling stretch in which she competed at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 and then six months later at the 2022 Beijing Winter Paralympics.

 

On Aug. 28, 2021, Gretsch became only the fifth American to win a gold medal at both the Summer and Winter Paralympics after she rallied down the stretch to win the paratriathlon by one second in Tokyo.

 

She didn’t get much time to rest afterward, though. She was scheduled to travel to Germany only a month later to train on snow with several of her U.S. Paralympics Nordic Skiing teammates and start preparing for Beijing.

 

Gretsch went on to win three medals in the biathlon at the Beijing Winter Paralympics — a gold, a silver and a bronze.

 

“I’ve been competing in both sports since 2017. Each year I’ve had to transition from one season to the other, so I’ve learned a lot about the transition through the years,” Gretsch said. “This doesn’t make the transition easy, but I know what to expect and how to avoid jumping from one to the other too quickly.”

 

Gretsch again won’t have much of an offseason after she wraps up the Nordic skiing season in March. It’ll then be time for her to transition back to the paratriathlon and trying to qualify for the 2024 Paris Paralympics, which would be her fourth Paralympics.

 

“I want to finish the season out strong in the world cup final,” Gretsch told USParaNordicSkiing.org. “Then this summer is huge. It’s the start of the qualification period for Paris and our first chance to make the team. That’s my goal this year, to solidify that spot.”


Alex Abrams has written about Olympic sports for more than 15 years, including as a reporter for major newspapers in Florida, Arkansas and Oklahoma. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.
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