With the beats of her heart pounding rapidly, Joanne Reid tried to steady her rifle.

A circle of less than two inches in diameter and 50 meters down range was her target, but her heart was going crazy, at nearly 220 beats per minute.

"That's like trying to shoot in the middle of an earthquake," she said. "My entire body was vibrating with the hammering beats of my heart."

Diagnosed with paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) last July, Reid could have seen the end to her budding career in biathlon, a sport that combines the skills of Nordic skiing and rifle marksmanship.

Two heart procedures and several grueling months of training later, Reid is on her way to the Olympics.

A 2013 NCAA champion in Nordic skiing, the former University of Colorado star will be one of five women representing the United States in biathlon at the Winter Olympics this month in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Reid follows in the footsteps of her mother, Beth (Heiden) Reid, who won a bronze medal in speedskating at the 1980 Olympics. She is also the niece of five-time Olympic speedskating gold medalist Eric Heiden.

"The day I arrive in Korea and put on the red, white, and blue ... people say that's the moment you really feel a part of Team USA, and I'm looking forward to it," said Reid, who finished her master's degree at CU a month ago and now calls the Western Slope home.

Reid's path to her Olympic moment began rather unexpectedly four years ago.


Following her sensational career at CU, where she was a seven-time All-American, Reid took time away from sports. In 2014, she returned and went to the U.S. Nationals in Nordic skiing, but said that decision was "out of what was basically sheer boredom, but my heart was never in it."

During that time, her grandfather was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's and his biathlon rifle was passed on to Beth, who then gave it to her daughter.

"In my possession, quite suddenly, was the means to embark on a new journey," Reid said. "And so I did."

Although she had very little experience shooting a rifle, Reid was drawn to it immediately. Her engineer parents, Beth and Russell, worked with her grandfather's rifle to make it more suitable for her stature, and away she went.

"I took my grandfather's rifle and journeyed with it straight up to the World Cup my first year," she said. "I shot slower than anyone else there, but I had a deep passion for shooting that carried me through."

She also had the unwavering support of her parents, and particularly her mother.

Reid views her mother as "a true hero," and not because Beth won an Olympic medal and world championships in not one, but two sports: speedskating and biking.

No, Reid views her mom as a hero because she could fix a toilet or a car, install a sprinkler system, cook dinner for the family of five and all other parenting duties; all while supporting Reid's athletic endeavors.

"For a decade or more, my mom was my singular training partner and coach," Reid said. "She went out with me in the California rain and roller-skied with me, ran with me, hill bounded with me, biked with me, and taught me speed skating drills on remote hill slopes of open space preserves."

With that devotion, it's no surprise that Beth helped to build the rifle that Reid would use in her latest passion.

"It was my mother's hands, shaping my rifle parts, supporting me, lifting me up, cheering for me both in the things that mattered least and the things that mattered most that got me to where I am now," she said.

While Beth supported her daughter in every possible way, Reid knew something wasn't right when she would try to steady her rifle and focus on a target.

SVT is when the heart occasionally beats at a higher rate than normal. It's not life-threatening, and really, for most people, it's not that big of a deal. But, Reid said, "you can lose the ability to recover aerobically, since your heart is no longer effectively cycling blood if you enter tachycardia."

She said her bouts of tachycardia would vary from a few seconds to over an hour.

A biathlete has the unique challenge of trying to quickly calm down after a stretch of Nordic skiing to focus on shooting a rifle. SVT made this extremely difficult for Reid.

"More often than not, I was shooting with heart rates upwards of 220 beats per minute," she said. "My tachycardia was getting more frequent as well."

In order to successfully continue in the sport, Reid made the decision to get a catheter ablation and destroy the extra pathways in her heart. (While many people with SVT have one extra pathway, Reid had two). She had her first procedure in August and when that was ultimately unsuccessful, she went back for a second in October.

"I was on the same table, getting the same horrifying feeling of small pieces of my heart burned out while I lay awake and watching it take place," she said.

While it was a rough stretch for Reid, she knew it was important for her future — and she's grateful for the cardiology unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"If the procedure was unsuccessful, SVT would likely have taken me out of biathlon permanently," she said. "My heart works just as it should now, and the spastic beats of my heart are behind me."

After going through the heart procedures, Reid said being selected to the U.S. team brought "an overwhelming sense of relief that the gamble paid off."

It was a gamble Reid was willing to take for a sport she has rapidly grown to love.

"Symbiosis between a mental and a physical sport is how I've seen my entire life— always a student athlete, always balancing both worlds," she said. "How fitting that I should end up in the sport I'm in now.

"But it's hard, and there are days, sometimes weeks, that the targets just don't seem to want to be hit, and the kilometers in the penalty lap keep adding up. You're never done learning to shoot any more than you are ever done learning technique. I wouldn't say I'm comfortable shooting, always, but I'm certainly enjoying learning."

Part of the U.S. World Cup team, Reid spends much of her time training in Germany and competing throughout Europe on the World Cup circuit. The Olympics will put the World Cup circuit on hold for a couple of weeks.

Reid and the rest of her U.S. teammates will now pursue an elusive Olympic medal. Biathlon debuted as an Olympic sport in 1960 for men and 1992 for women. Over the years, 220 Olympics medals have been awarded in the sport, with none going to the U.S.

However, Lowell Bailey is the reigning men's world champion, while Susan Dunklee was runner-up last year. Reid would love a medal, but mainly hopes to enjoy the experience.

"It's been a moderately bumpy year for me, so I'm just going to go out there and do what I've been taught to do: ski fast, and shoot at the middle of the black dots," she said. "I can't get any faster or better between now and then, so I'm just going to enjoy the ride and see what happens."

It's a ride that will include her grandfather's rifle, named "Forget-Me-Not" by Beth.

Reid no longer uses that rifle in competition, because it's too heavy for her size, but she often uses it in training and has great reverence for what it has meant to her and her family.

"That rifle, and therefore my grandfather, were the catalyst for this journey," she said, "and are therefore such a fundamental part of it that even without his rifle physically present, he is with me under the Olympic torch."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33