Is Ruslan Reiter’s Nordic skiing career ahead of schedule?

Who knows? He didn’t map any of this out. But Reiter is going to PyeongChang, South Korea as a member of the United States Paralympic Nordic ski team next month.

“I’m definitely surprised,” Reiter said. “I would not have thought I’d be going to the Games.”

A year ago at this time, Reiter was competing for Maranacook Community High School in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championships. He’d already taken part in one World Cup event as a member of Team USA, and was looking forward to his second in PyeongChang, site of the Olympics. Reiter has since raced in a third World Cup event, at Canmore, Alberta, Canada last December.

This is moving fast. Not so fast as to overwhelm Reiter, who grew up in Manchester, but fast enough.

“I’ve just got a lot to learn,” Reiter said.

At 18, Reiter is the youngest member of the men’s Nordic team by four years. Women’s team members Grace Miller and Mia Zutter are each a few months younger than Reiter. When Reiter first started competing at the international level, coaches stressed to him that results were not as important as improvement. Reiter was racing against full-grown men who have been doing this a while, who have the experience and muscle memory to know exactly how their bodies should feel during a race and how to push themselves. On the Team USA web page, Reiter is listed as 5-foot-6, 138-pounds. He’s still growing and learning. But he’s learning on the job, and he’s doing well. Sometime in the last year, Reiter crossed that fine line from a Team USA project into a Team USA prospect.

At December’s World Cup at Canmore, Reiter said coach John Farra noted he’d improved his times by around 20 percent since his first World Cup race in Finland a year earlier. Reiter felt stronger when he raced.

Despite all his improvement, Reiter wasn’t reading PyeongChang travel guides. As he waited throughout most of January for the team roster announcement, Reiter said he wasn’t nervous.

“It was more, if it happens, it happens,” he said.

It happened last week. Reiter received an e-mail from Farra. It was a note of congratulations, and a full roster of Reiter’s Team USA teammates.

The Games are scheduled to run March 9-18. Reiter leaves for PyeongChang on March 3. In the three weeks until then, there’s a lot of work to do. So much work.

Reiter has competed in Eastern Cup races, and had a race in Hanover, New Hampshire, this weekend. He’s spent a lot of time in Fort Kent, working with coach Seth Hubbard on his biathlon skills. The event combines skiing and rifle shooting, and until he joined the national team, Reiter had never tried it.

“I never shot a rifle as a kid,” Reiter said.

The training is more than target practice. The sport is as taxing mentally as physically. You’ve been skiing at a race pace. Your heart is racing. Your breathing is heavy. Now, you’ve got to steady yourself, take aim, and hit the targets. Misses result in penalty laps, so steady. Steady…

With Hubbard, Reiter works on range shooting, skiing laps, and getting into a breathing routine.

“It feels good when you clear (all the targets),” Reiter said. “You have to settle in, and get into rhythm.”

At the Games, Reiter will compete in Nordic races, sprints and middle distance, and in a team relay. He’ll put his improving biathlon skills to the test. Medals? Let’s take a step back.

“I just want to do well in my field. I think it’s too early to think medals,” Reiter said.

Reiter is just getting started. If things continue to progress, these Paralympics are just the first act. Reiter can’t be ahead of schedule. He’s writing it as he goes.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

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Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM