PULASKI, Wis. (NBC 26) — Deedra Irwin is the best U.S. Biathlete at the Winter Olympic Games. After the 29-year-old's historic 7th place finish in the 15KM biathlon race, the world took notice.
"It's just really hard to process all of the emotions right now. Obviously, I'm getting just a crazy amount of love thrown at me from everyone like all over the world," says Deedra.
Biathlon is the only winter sport in which the U.S. has never landed an Olympic medal. Irwin's 7th place finish was the best result for a U.S. Biathlete in American History.
Not bad for someone who just started her biathlon career four years ago.
Deedra Irwin started skiing as a teenager with the Ashwaubenon Nordic Ski team.
As her parents put it, Nordic skiing was a way to channel Deedra's endless energy.
"Nothing else tired her out. Swimming, soccer, running country running, all day long she could do it all day long when she came home from her first cross country ski practice she was like, 'Mom, I am so tired.' I was like, 'Finally!'" says her mother, Jennifer Irwin.
It was the challenge Deedra was searching for.
"She would be coming in like last or second to last. So, I was really concerned," Jennifer adds. "Who's going to want to keep doing this? And then the next year, she was winning."
Irwin quickly climbed the ranks in Nordic skiing and earned a scholarship to Michigan Tech. Then, at the age of 25, Deedra gave biathlon a shot.
"It's very high pressure but at the same time if you can get past that pressure and know that, you know you put in all the work and you're able to execute and you're able to do what you need to in that moment. It's, it's an awesome feeling," Deedra says.
Once she found the marriage of cross-country skiing and target shooting, Deedra was hooked and her career took off.
Deedra has traveled across the globe competing for the IBU World Cup, joined the Army National Guard in Vermont, and is now realizing her Olympic dream.
"It was a lot of excitement. We've been working and building up for this for 4 years," says her father, Rodney Irwin.
Throughout her short biathlon career, more than half of that time has been overshadowed by the pandemic. Her parents, Rodney and Jennifer, have not been able to travel to see their daughter compete and say they were crushed when they learned they were not able to join their daughter in Beijing.
Both Deedra and her parents say the separation has been difficult.
"She's my little bluebird she knows I love her, that's all," Rodney Irwin says about Deedra, whose middle name is Blu. "I can't do it without being emotional," he says through tears.
"She knows that it's hard," says her mother, Jennifer. "She knows we want to be there. As bad as she wants us to be there and we want to be there."
Despite the distance, this ground-breaking Olympian isn't losing sight of what matters most.
"I'm really realizing that I did a lot of the work but you know a village raises you. A community pushes you to be who you are. But it’s extra motivation to do well and make everyone proud and come home and drink a beer with them when I get back stateside," she says.
"I wish I could give them a hug right now," Deedra adds fighting back tears. "I can't wait to come home."