February 22

Steve Solloway: Lowell Bailey’s mother takes biathlete’s success in stride

Elizabeth Bailey is back teaching at Southern Maine Community College after 10 days in Sochi.

BRUNSWICK – Elizabeth Bailey wasn’t concerned about her nerves or her heart rate this Saturday morning. Her son had one more event in Sochi in the men’s relay biathlon before his Winter Olympics were done.

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Lowell Bailey of Lake Placid, N.Y., crosses the finish line of the men's biathlon 20k individual race at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 13. He finished eighth, the best finish ever by an American.

The Associated Press

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Lowell Bailey shoots during the men's biathlon 10k sprint at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 8.

The Associated Press

Mom expected Lowell Bailey to do just fine. As long as he kept his heart rate down when he sighted his target and squeezed the trigger of his rifle.

“Lowell has a tendency to think a lot. He has to settle and relax. He knows how.”

Elizabeth Bailey left Sochi behind on Monday, three days after Lowell finished eighth in the 20-kilometer individual race, the best finish ever by an American. With little more than a couple of deep breaths, some sleep and tea, she was back teaching nursing students on the Southern Maine Community College campus at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

This Saturday morning she was in front of two computer monitors for the relay race, one streaming Lowell’s performance and the other charting race times and targets hit – or missed – by all the teams.

It’s been a whirlwind month for the divorced mother of two but she knew that before it began. She’s done her share of traveling, to Turin, Italy, for the 2006 Winter Olympics and Vancouver, British Columbia, for the 2010 Games. Countless other trips to World Cup events. Lowell is 32 and a veteran biathlete well known to other competitors and fans.

Someday he’ll turn to the degrees in environmental science and political science he earned at the University of Vermont. Elizabeth doesn’t know when. “With Lowell it’s always just thinking about the next race.”

That mindset helped last week. His 2014 Winter Olympics started with a 36th place in the 10K sprint. He followed with a 38th in the pursuit race. Neither race was a confidence builder.

Lowell made himself forget. “The first person I saw after the (pursuit) was my mom. I realized, here’s the reason I’m here, essentially,” he told the Adirondack Daily Enterprise newspaper from his hometown of Lake Placid, N.Y.

“She’s living in this tiny house with like 10 other people down in the valley and she came 4,000 miles just to see me race. When you think about that and how many people besides her have worked so hard even to just get me to the starting line, it makes me appreciate the fact that I’m here and this is happening.”

His next race was the 20K individual and the eighth place. The performance didn’t earn him a medal but it was a benchmark for the entire U.S. biathlon team.

“I was so very happy,” said Elizabeth, sitting Friday at her desk at SMCC. “There was a certain amount of relief. Finally it all came together. I know how hard he’s worked.”

She’s been a professor of nursing at SMCC for nearly three years. Her colleagues have learned about the biathlon through her but the education is ongoing. Someone asked Elizabeth what her son’s job was when he wasn’t skiing and shooting a rifle.

That’s his job, mom said. Six days a week, 11 months out of the year. Training and meetings with coaches, and workouts and more training.

Elizabeth grinned. You can talk to Americans about hockey, downhill skiing and figure skating. The biathlon is a mystery.

But not to northern Europeans. In the Olympic stadium, Elizabeth was typically surrounded by Russian fans. One got quite excited when he discovered she was the mother of Lowell Bailey. She couldn’t follow his Russian and asked someone to translate.

“He was telling me he had Lowell on his fantasy biathlon team.”

The fans, she said, weren’t wrapped up in their country’s flags. Cheering was universal for good performances. After three Olympiads and many World Cup events, Elizabeth knows Americans might not understand.

She spent 10 days in Sochi when, in fact, she wasn’t sure she was going. “Leading up to this there was more trepidation than excitement because of the security issue.”

She saw the glitter of the newly constructed Olympic venues and hotels, and she saw poverty elsewhere. She felt safe but also disconcerted in this extreme world of haves and have-nots.

She flew back to Maine and her daughter, Kendra Bailey, 28, who lives in Portland. Mom is a happy woman. Lowell Bailey is still living a dream.

Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:


Twitter: SteveSolloway

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