As one of Canada’s greatest female biathletes, Zina Kocher is looking to qualify for her third appearance in the Winter Games. Having already competed at Torino 2006 and on home soil at Vancouver 2010, she is hoping that Sochi shall provide her with her first Winter Games medal. Her strongest finish in her previous appearances was a fifteenth place finish in the Relay in Vancouver.
Known affectionately as Zee, her first athletic endeavor was as a cross-country skier. As Biathlon incorporates the sport along with shooting, she was drawn to the sport at the 1998 Alberta Winter Games. Her endurance and athleticism resulted in being named Biathlon Canada’s Female Athlete of the Year in 2002, 2004 and 2006.
A lifelong resident of Alberta, she was the North American champion during the 2004-05 season. Of note, her greatest performance in the biathlon was a third place finish in the 15 km Individual race at Ostersund, Sweden in December 2006, marking the first time in a decade that a Canadian grabbed an international medal.
There is no question that if one word defines Kocher, it is toughness. While the bronze medal in Sweden represented the jubilation of her career, a lumbar disc protrusion shortly afterwards was its desolation. The will to return and continue in the sport was enhanced by the experience of speaking at a school, where it rejuvenated her and provided her with purpose.
While she trains in Canmore full-time, another aspect of her career is the struggle with money, a tragic reality for any world class amateur athlete. It is easy to look at the male pro athletes in baseball and football and assume that every athlete in the world is a multi-millionaire. Sadly, this is not the case.
Appearing in a state of undress with fellow biathletes Rosanna Crawford, Megan Imrie, Sandra Keith and Megan Tandy in the Bold, Beautiful Biathlon calendar in 2008, another word that could have easily been used is brave. To disrobe in order to raise money for one’s sport is not only testament to one’s dedication for the sport, yet it displays a remarkable amount of courage. While Kocher made international news for the calendar, helping to raise thousands of dollars for her team, it is symbolic of how every sport in Canada deserves equal funding, regardless of popularity.
As she continues to struggle with fund raising, Kocher has turned to the website Pursuit, an essential tool that Megan Imrie has also benefitted from. All proceeds raised help to cover the sometimes overwhelming costs of ammunition, physiotherapy, chiropractic requirements along with living expenses. Even in spring and summer months, there is significant dry land training including biking, lakeshore running and rock climbing.
Despite the costs and the struggles, Kocher is able to find the time to give back to her community. From causes such as Fast and Female (empowering girls aged 9-19 to build confidence) and Right to Play (founded by Johann Olav Kaus) to KidSport (helping remove financial obstacles so children can play sport) and Green Laces (environmental cause), she is a model athlete and citizen.
Her run of over a decade in the sport is remarkable. Even if she emerges from Sochi without a medal, her legacy as a dedicated, courageous and a role model for both young women and men. She has earned the right to be considered a champion in the hearts and minds of Canadian sports fans.