How in the world did I, a freelance writer in the USA, get the amazing opportunity to interview a Norwegian Olympic athlete? In her own home, about a sport I’d never heard of, in a country I had never visited?
Think creatively about how to find your next freelance magazine article writing assignment:
In 1990’s, my husband’s company in the USA was bought by Norwegians, so he traveled there frequently on business. When I had an opportunity to visit Norway with him, and I was thrilled!
I wondered if I might be able to garner an article assignment related to the trip. A family member told me about Viking magazine, for Sons of Norway members (people interested in Norwegian heritage) so I called the editor. She was responsive to my experience writing for other national magazines.
The editor asked if I’d be open to interviewing a Lillehammer Olympic athlete. (Of course!) She suggested that I contact the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee. That led me to Hildegunn Fossen, a 24-year-old female biathlon (ski shooting) champion. A dynamite skier and a crack shot with a rifle, she had won the 1993 Norwegian national biathlon competition and was preparing for the 1994 Winter Olympics.
Unbelievably, in Drammen Norway we dined with a coworker who knew Hildegunn. She had been born in his city! I was told exactly where she lived, on a farm several hours away in the mountains. Serendipitously (actually I call it a God-thing), our plans already included a train journey on the Bergen Railway across the country to see the fjords. Hildegunn lived along the way! I was able to use our preexisting train ticket, but simply hop off for a few hours, then back on. She lived only 12 minutes away from Bromma train station and fetched me to take me to her home.
For those as uniformed as I was: the biathlon for the winter Olympics is combination of skate style skiing (skoyting) and target shooting. In Norwegian, ski shooting is called ski skyting, pronounced “shee sheeting.”
Hildegunn told me that as soon as she had began walking, her folks had put her on skis. At around age twelve she learned to use a rifle. At the time of our interview, she was spending ten days a month on the slopes, practicing or traveling with the national team to competitions in Austria, Yugoslavia, Italy, and Germany. Home training included jogging, weight lifting, mountain biking, use of road skis (short skis on wheels) on pavement, and target practice.
Curious about ski shooting? Here’s what I learned:
During a 7 1/2 kilometer ski run, the athlete (with a rifle slung over her back) has two opportunities to stop and shoot at targets 50 meters away–once while standing, the other while laying flat on a pad on the snow. The rectangular target has five holes spaced evenly. The athlete, whose rifle is loaded with only five bullets, must shoot through the center of every hole in the target. For each miss a penalty loop of 150 meters must be skied. Finishing times vary from race to race depending on wind, snow and track conditions, and how well the skis are waxed. When it is snowing hard, the athletes wear goggles, raising them to shoot while peering through the swirling snow. A flag near each target helps alter sights on the gun to compensate for wind conditions.
Hildegunn demonstrated her shooting skills for me outside her home, then showed me various interesting awards she’d been given. Most were lovely but practical objects, including a carved clock and a lovely silver goblet from King Harald.
Before I left, I was also given a tour of the farm. Their sheep would graze throughout the summer, in the hills, until rounded up in the fall. The family would shear them, sell the wool, and birth the lambs. I was amused at how when Hildegunn approached the meadow and called out, some lambs came running like puppies, bleating excitedly. One mama had been lost to a lynx so Hildegunn had bottle-fed the weakest lamb.
As our journey continued, we got to see the incredible Hardanger Fjord, then traveled on down to Haugesund, Norway. Unbeknownst to me at the time, we’d later live in Haugesund for two wonderful years and have the adventure of a lifetime.
I realize now how grateful I am that Hildegunn spoke English so well. When we moved to Norway I faced some challenge in not being able to communicate well — especially difficult for a word person! You can read On Being an Illiterate Writer to see how that temporarily affected my identity as a writer, but it also highly sensitized me to how expats from other countries may feel when they come to the USA if English is not their native language! And they may be even be expert writers in their own language.
It’s so odd to think that I can now read news about Hildegunn in Norwegian, and understand a bit of it, something I never dreamed of when I first I picked up that phone to call Viking magazine!
Also, at the time I called to see about a magazine article assignment with Viking, I wasn’t aware of any Norwegian heritage in my own family. And then my youngest daughter was born there, beginning our own heritage there. And to top it off — she’s an athlete too, now heading off to a college in the mountains to run cross-country and looking forward to skiing too.
And of all things, here it is 22 years later and I and Hildegunn, now with her own family, are connected on Facebook. She posts her family news in Norwegian, and thankfully I can understand some. You just never know where a magazine article assignment will lead you and the long-term connections you may make because of that!
This video from Rick Steves brings back memories of our Norway in a Nutshell train ride on the Bergen Railway! (Makes me crave that brown goat cheese that tastes like caramel–yum!) Enjoy the virtual ride.