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Deedra Irwin on her Olympic run and time at Michigan Tech

In 2008, Deedra Irwin watched the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics with a dream: that one day, she too might earn her place in the world’s foremost sporting event. Flash forward 14 years, and the Olympic biathlete has just finished competing in her first Winter Olympics — in Beijing, of all places.  

Irwin, a Wisconsin native and 2015 graduate of MTU’s Exercise Science program, had a historic finish during her Olympic competition — her seventh place finish in the Women’s 15K Individual Race is the best-ever placement of any American biathlete in the Olympics.

On the magnitude of that coincidence, Irwin says, “I remember watching that Opening Ceremony [Beijing 2008] and just being in such awe, and I think that’s why when I came into the Opening Ceremony for this one [Beijing 2022] I was just like, ‘How did this happen?’”

Irwin first dreamt of the Olympics as a summer athlete in a running event. “I loved everything about running and track and field … I definitely did not see myself as a Winter Olympian, especially in Biathalon,” she says. 

While at Michigan Tech, she initially competed in cross-country and track before walking onto the Nordic skiing team. During her fifth and final year at MTU, Irwin had an especially successful season on the Nordic team, making it to the US National Championships. This success is what opened her eyes to strongly considering a career as a professional athlete. 

“I did apply to a couple grad school programs for exercise science … but as fate has it, I did not get accepted, so I thought the next logical thing for me to do would be to become a professional nordic skier,” Irwin jokes. “Not really normal, but I figured I’d give it a chance, give it at least a year. It just kind of kept building from there.”

Irwin was introduced to biathlon by her friend and current teammate, Joanne Reid. Reid reached out to Irwin when the latter was considering retirement from Nordic skiing, right before the 2018 Olympics, where Reid competed in Biathlon. “I was like, ‘Well, I’ll give it a year. I’ll give it a try,’ and that year turned into four and a half years and an Olympics,” Irwin says. 

When asked about Michigan Tech’s impact on her success, Irwin reminisces fondly. “I think the biggest impact that still affects me today about Michigan Tech is the community,” she says. “Not necessarily the people at Michigan Tech, but the people around Michigan Tech, made my experience so unique.” Irwin’s time volunteering with local athletes, like the Copper Country Ski Tigers, and her interactions with community supporters still have an impact on her success today. 

“I’m really excited to get back to Houghton someday,” Irwin says. “I hope I’ll see some people out on the trails … it’s like a second home to me. The Olympics was an amazing experience and having the support of the Michigan Tech community made it even more unique.”

To fellow Huskies looking to achieve their goals, Irwin’s advice is to experience as much as possible and take chances. “You have this idea of what you want to do and sometimes that idea doesn’t always end up being what you planned,” she says. “You never know, you might end up fulfilling a crazy dream that you didn’t really think was possible at the time.”

Read more about Irwin’s athletic career in this article by Michigan Tech Athletics. Follow along with Irwin on Instagram @deedrablu


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