GREEN BAY — For Appleton Native and Kimberly High School alum Paul Schommer competing in the Winter Olympics wasn’t a childhood dream. Now, 11 years out of high school he’s getting set to compete in the biathlon.
“I think it's extremely humbling to be able to represent our country on that big stage," Schommer said. "At the same time I feel like the exact same guy. I’m still just a kid from Appleton who found his way into a sport that I am good enough to make it to the Olympics."
Schommer’s qualifying score came in Sweden in his first race of the season. However, he had to wait a few more weeks to see if anyone would beat his time. When the long-awaited announcement finally came, he was sleeping.
“It wasn’t what a lot of people would have expected where I’m sitting in a room anxiously anticipating the news from some people with my family," said the biathlete. "I was just was in France at another race weekend.”
It’s been a long journey for the biathlete. He didn’t grow up participating in skiing or shooting a rifle outside of the occasional hunting. He was a wrestler — and that’s where the unlikely path to biathlon started.
“Just started kind of restricting my diet and exercising more, thinking that I was making healthy decisions, thinking that I was avoiding getting fat," Schommer said. "It ended up just becoming an addiction.”
At the age of 14 that addiction turned into anorexia. He had lost a significant amount of weight. While his family was coming to grips with what was going on with Paul and trying to help him, in 2007 his father Ray was killed in a car accident.
“He was just on his way to work and there was another guy traveling home from work and he had just started a third shift job and ended up falling asleep at the wheel and had a head on collision with my dad,” Schommer said.
Now Schommer was struggling with both the loss of his father, but also how to cope with his eating disorder.
“I just tried to hide it because of the stigma that’s attached with eating disorders and males," Schommer said of his anorexia battle. "I didn’t want people to think things about me or make assumptions and all these different things. I was embarrassed about it.”
After going to rehab at the Rogers center in Oconomowoc, he started skiing in his sophomore year of high school. By his senior year he was competing for the junior Olympic team and his hard work earned him a spot on the St. Scholastica ski team in Duluth, Minnesota. While there, his college coach introduced him to Biathlon.
“I think he kind of saw a diamond in the rough in some ways," the Appleton native said. "(He) kind of took me under his wing and eventually pushed me towards biathlon because he knew the opportunities and how big the sport is in Europe and (I) eventually found my way to biathlon.”
Schommer didn’t fully dive into the sport until after he graduated college.
“Once you try biathlon shooting for the first time it kind of captivates you because you get this response when you're shooting and you hit the target and the black target turns white," he said. "There’s like this sound, it kind of has this clank and it’s very satisfying.”
A little over six years later, he has reached the highest level of the sport.
“I hope I have the opportunity to meet other athletes from other countries and kind of get to know them," said Schommer. "I’m excited to see China. I don’t know how much of it we’ll be able to see, but just going to a new country I’ve never been to. I’ve never been to China before.”
Although his wife and family won’t be able to attend, he knows they will be backing him every step of the way and that his dad would be extremely proud.
“I do think he would be extremely proud and it would be something totally different than he would have ever expected me to do," said the Olympian. "He would probably be super psyched about it. I’m sure he would also think he could beat me on skis or shooting from time to time.”
However, Paul isn’t just a Olympian. He is someone that has beat their eating disorder and he gives back by returning to the place where he got help. From time to time he goes back to the Rogers center to share his story and help those that are going through a struggle he knows all too well.
“Keeping quiet about it is a form of like victim hood still and like living with that shame and I don’t want to be ashamed of some of things that I have gone through and also help other people out. I’m happy that I can work with Rogers in Oconomowoc. I go back from time to time and speak with some of their current patients and just want to encourage them to get healthy,” Schommer said.