Ruslan Reiter and the U.S. Nordic ski team arrived in Beijing last weekend for the 2022 Winter Paralympic Games, where he’ll begin competition on Saturday in a biathlon sprint. Earlier this week, the Maranacook High grad reflected on the improvements he’s made since skiing in his first Paralympic games four years ago.

Ruslan Reiter, 22, has gained valuable experience since competing at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in South Korea. He plans to compete in at least four events at the Beijing Winter Paralympics, starting on Saturday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I knew I had a lot to get better at. It takes a lot of patience,” said Reiter, 22, via phone from Beijing. “I train a lot. I see my progression. I feel faster this year.”

Along with Saturday’s 6-kilometer race, Reiter is scheduled to compete in the 10K biathlon on Tuesday, the 5K Nordic sprint on Wednesday and the 10K Nordic race on Saturday, March 12. Reiter also could compete in a mixed relay, he said.

Born with an underdeveloped right arm, Reiter grew up in Manchester after being adopted by his parents, Michael Conley and Anne Reiter, from a children’s home in Yekaterinburg, Russia, when he was 4. Reiter took up Nordic skiing in junior high, and he competed in his first Paralympic World Cup race in December 2016 while still a senior at Maranacook.

Reiter was barely a year out of high school and the youngest member of the U.S. Nordic team when he competed in his first Paralympics in 2018 in PyeongChang, South Korea. He placed seventh in the mixed 10K cross country relay, 11th in 12.5K biathlon, 15th in 15K biathlon, and 16th in 7.5K biathlon.

“In his second Paralympic Games, Ruslan is coming into Beijing with more experience training and competing on an international level.  He has made consistent improvements over the last four years and is primed for having great performances here in Beijing,” Eileen Carey, the director of the U.S. Paralympic Nordic ski team, said in an email.

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In the spring of 2019, Reiter moved to Bozeman, Montana, to train with the national team at the Crosscut Mountain Sports Center.

“It’s way easier to train with the team rather than by myself. More and more para athletes are moving to Bozeman. It’s been getting better and better every year,” Reiter said.

Working with the national team in Montana not only connected Reiter with his teammates and coaches, it provided him new ways to supplement his training. With Coach Nick Michaud, Reiter is able to study video of his skiing and improve his technique. Studying video with Michaud made Reiter realize he has a tendency to forget his right arm and leave it at his side when he races. Now he knows even without using a pole, swinging his right arm provides momentum. Video also served as a reminder to Reiter to keep his upper body straight.

“I’m a visual learner, so if I can see it, I’ll remember it,” Reiter said. “These little tweaks make a big difference.”

There’s an indoor shooting range in Bozeman where Reiter can practice for the biathlon events. In training leading up to the games, Reiter and his coaches put together a personal performance plan in which Reiter made finishing in the top six in his events his goal. In a tune-up race last month in Sun Valley, Idaho, Reiter completed the 34K course in 1:25:28.7, shaving 7 minutes off his previous best on that course.

In December, Reiter placed ninth in a World Cup 10K biathlon at Canmore in Alberta, Canada, and 11th in a 5K Nordic race.

“Our program has developed in the same period (Reiter has been in Bozeman) and Ruslan has been an important part in that growth,” Carey said.

The coronavirus pandemic and training for the Paralympics made Reiter decide to put his plans to study aviation on hold until next summer or fall. Flying has been a longtime passion for Reiter, who plans to attend flight school at Gallatin College in Bozeman.

“I wanted to wait until after the Games so I could focus on training,” Reiter said.

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