Fifteen years after she competed in the Canada Winter Games, Irene Berns is carrying the torch representing Williams Lake during the 2015 Games.
“My experience in the biathlon doing cross country skiing and marksmanship shooting led to me wanting every kid to experience the same thing,” Berns told the Tribune.
Recalling her experiences at the Games, which were held in Cornerbrook, Nfld., Berns said all these years later many things stand out.
“Our sport was held during the second week of the games so we participated in the closing ceremonies. I was so amazed by all the colours, it was pretty exciting.”
As the athletes entered the arena there was music and lights and the realization of how much work everyone had done to get there, she added.
“The feeling was unreal. It was like a mini Olympics.”
Berns grew up in the small Saskatchewan town Montmarte, famous for its locally fabricated Eiffel Tower.
There weren’t any facilities so Berns made do.
Her brother made some trails for her on the family farm, and she went out into the “back 40” to practice shoot cans.
“I was also an outsider at high school,” she recalled. “Every lunch hour I’d take off to train. People would see me with roller blades and ski poles roaring along Highway 40.”
Her coach was from Alberta and she was required to attend so many race cups in Saskatchewan to qualify for Team Saskatchewan and then attend the Canada Games.
The inspiration to pursue the sport began germinating through her involvement with Army Cadets at the age of 12.
By the time she competed in the Games, she was 17.
When she attended the University of Regina to pursue a degree in kinesiology and health sciences, she no longer competed, but began volunteering as a trainer with a group of kids preparing to attend the next games.
“We only had a small training facility in Regina,” she recalled.
In 2007, Berns and her RCMP husband Mike moved to Williams Lake and she began volunteering with the local army cadets.
They train for the cross country skiing at Bull Mountain and the marksmanship at the Williams Lake Sportsmen’s Association club house on Bond Lake Road.
She loves the sport because of its contrasting nature.
Athletes will increase their heart rates during a ski lap and then have to calm themselves down for the shooting.
They carry rifles on their backs while skiing. Her is .22 Anshutz.
“I think it originated in Scandinavia as a hunting method,” she suggested.
In the past Berns has also taught the biathlon for the city during its “Try it,” program when the city garnered a Pacific Sport grant.
Working with kids is rewarding and one of the reasons is how close her own experiences as a youth athlete have remained in her mind and heart.
“I remember doing chores in the barn realizing I was determined to do this and nothing would stop me,” she smiled. “I even used the Love Inc. song ‘You’re a Super Star’ to inspire me.”
Whenever she’d get nervous just before an event, she’d sing the song to herself and the lyrics:
Reach for the sky and hold your head up high
For tonight and every night, you’re a superstar
And don’t you be afraid, think of all the friends you’ve made
Like any other night you’ve got your name in lights
You’re a superstar
A mom of two children — Sienna, 6, and Thomas, 3, Berns is also attending Thompson River University in Williams Lake studying the teacher assistant program.
“I wanted to do something totally different,” she said.
Her husband Mike is the one who nominated her to be a torch bearer, she added.
“I knows all about me and my story, He met me in 1998 at Army Cadet Camp in B.C.”