Every morning, Chris and Chelsee Dellinger roll out of bed and immediately start to juggle working through their long list of responsibilities. As cadets in the University of Wyoming’s Army National Guard ROTC program, their day often begins with morning formations, physical fitness training or field exercises, followed by a long day of classes and homework.
Even with their hectic schedules, the Dellingers admit credit that the strength of their relationship to comes from their commitment to finding new ways to stay connected.
The Dellingers initially joined Joining the Army National Guard and enrolling into the University of Wyoming’s ROTC program were all parts as part of their original plan to stick together. Now, biathlon training has become one of the core activities that strengthen both their military skills and their marriage.
The two first met during Chelsee’s senior year at Vernal High School in Utah. Chris was on a break from college and started working as an assistant coach with her school’s swim team. Many of the athletes considered him to be an egotistical jerk, Chelsee said.
“It was his presence. [The swim team] was more of a social thing for us, rather than trying hard,” she said, followed by a light-hearted smile. The team didn’t take swimming seriously, which was contrary to the way he approached it the sport as a coach.
Chris was a skilled talented athlete, having spent much of his high school and college career perfecting his craft. He was good skilled enough to make it to the U.S. Olympic trials, but was never quite able to qualify for the Olympic Ggames, he said.
Fortunately for Chelsee and her teammates, Chris’ tenure as an assistant coach was short-lived. He was called away on a two-year missionary trip to Europe with his church, and the team rejoiced in his absence, they said.
THE PERFECT GIRL
Eventually, Chris returned to Vernal, and it didn’t take long for one of his friends, — Chelsee’s older sister — to find the “perfect girl” for him.
Chelsee though was reluctant to go out with her ex-swim coach, but her sister assured her that they would be ideal for each other. At first, the couple Chelsee and Chris considered their date to be a huge disaster, as they spent most of the time socializing with the other couple that accompanied them that evening.
“After the date, everyone went [their] separate ways, but we went back to the parking lot, and we started up a conversation,” Chelsee said. They spent the next couple of hours, in the frigid cold of December, getting to know each other’s other: their likes, interests, goals and aspirations. They realized they had more in common than they thought, he Chris said.
The young couple continued to talk until both of them returned to school at different universities. An hour-long drive separated the two, but they each made a concerted effort to visit each other as much as they could.
“It took five months from me saying, ‘Hi, my name is Chris’ to ‘Will you marry me?'” Chris said, laughing. He proposed in April of 2011, and the two married that July.
JOINING THE NATIONAL GUARD
After getting married, they Dellingers embedded themselves settled in Wyoming and soon found themselves locked into a monotonous routine. Chelsee worked a couple of low-key jobs, while Chris was a full-time graduate student. “We were kind of in a rut,” Chelsee said.
The Dellingers were in dire need of desperately needed change, but it their next step had to be something they did together.
After some research, Chelsee approached her husband with the idea of enlisting into the Army National Guard, Chris said. It didn’t take long for them to sign on the dotted line. The two completed basic training in 2014 and returned home to start school at the University of Wyoming. In 2015, the Dellingers were accepted into the school’s ROTC program, beginning their journey as Army cadets.
Cadets are required to meet several days a week for physical fitness training, mentorship, and field training exercises, according to Capt. Eric Magnuson, the Dellingers’ mentor and an assistant professor of military science. This training is in conjunction with a full class schedule, as well as other extra-curricular activities, like athletics.
As Chris and Chelsee are about to enter their senior year in college, they need to complete the ROTC Leader’s Training Course held over the summer at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The course is an intense four-week program, which includes instruction on military command, personnel management, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, military tactics and ethics, and other Army officer-related topics. Furthermore, Tthe course also includes a weeklong field training exercise, where cadets rappel off of a 50-foot tower, navigate through an obstacle course, conduct water survival training, practice land navigation, and hone other military and leadership skills.
Additionally, the Dellingers’ commanders Furthermore, their chain of command has have selected them to be part of the school’s ROTC recruiting team. In this With the new position, Chris and Chelsee will engage in ROTC recruiting efforts throughout the campus.
“Both of them have great personalities and represent the ROTC program well,” said Magnuson, adding that they were the first married couple to participate in the program.
FINDING A LOVE FOR BIATHLON
As iIf the cadet lifestyle wasn’t enough, the Dellingers were still on the lookout for something fun and athletic that they could do as a couple.
One morning during PT, Chelsee caught wind of an opportunity to participate in a biathlon summer training camp. “She didn’t know what biathlon was, but we looked into it,” Chris said. “It turned out there was an extra spot for me on the team, so we jumped in head first. We knew nothing about the sport.”
After clearing it through their leadership, the Dellingers were on a flight to the Camp Ethan Allen Training Site in Jericho, Vermont.
“[The Dellingers] never skied before,” said Maj. Rebecca Walsh, the Wyoming National Guard biathlon coach. “They flew separately from the rest of the team. I picked them up from the airport. I didn’t know them, and they didn’t know me. They were eager to learn everything.”
Biathlon is a unique sport, Walsh explained said. The sport combines cross-country skiing, which tests an athlete’s cardiovascular endurance, with precision shooting, which requires an athlete to maintain a low heart rate and exhibit fluid and concise movements.
After spending a week training on roller skis and shooting at half-dollar-sized targets, the Dellingers were hooked. The couple returned home, bought their own biathlon equipment and spent all their extra time training for the sport. “I knew that they were willing to train and wanted to be competitive,” Walsh said. “They were physically fit coming into it, so that helps.”
With only two months of training, the couple had one last challenge to face — learning to snow ski. To help, Walsh signed them up for a Thanksgiving ski festival held at Yellowstone National Park in Montana. The event draws a lot of cross country skiers and biathletes from the U.S. and Canada, Walsh said.
This was the couple’s first real experience in a biathlon event.
“It was something,” Chris said, laughing. “The snow was terrible. All of the falls hurt. It was too icy, so it was way too fast for Chelsee and me.”
After they had finished the first race, Walsh thought they would want to quit the sport. “I could tell that they were exhausted and that it was challenging for them,” she said. “I’m glad they stuck through the first week on snow because it was a difficult week.”
The Dellingers stood the course persevered, competing in more than 10 other competitions. “You absolutely question the decisions you’ve made in your life that got you on that biathlon course,” Chris said. “When it is done, and over with, you realize that it was a lot of fun.”
With each competition, they re-energize their love for the sport, he added.
While being able to support a spouse’s career, especially in the military, is important, Walsh said she sees the same commitment whenever the Dellingers race. “I love seeing how supportive they are of each other,” she said. “It shows that they aren’t in it for themselves,”
FUTURE LEADERS, NATIONAL ATHLETES
As the couple gets more involved with biathlon, it motivates them to improve as Soldiers. “The skills of shoot, move, and communicate are the skills we use every day when we train for biathlon,” Walsh said. “Those skills are crucial to [a Soldier’s] success.”
Chris is on the cusp of maxing out his fitness score and continues to make significant improvements to his range scores, according to Magnuson. Likewise, Chelsee has a 300-point PT score and is the top marksman in her unit, having shot 39 out of 40 targets.
“We see ourselves being in the National Guard for a long time because of biathlon,” Chris said.
In addition to eventual commission commissioning as Army officers, the Dellingers have one goal — medaling during a competition. Chelsee has been the closest, placing in the top five in a couple of races.
“Biathletes aren’t made overnight,” Walsh said. “It takes years of consistent and focused training. I think Chris can make the All-National Guard team next season. Chelsee can, too, if she wants it bad enough. I expect big things from the Dellingers in the future, both as Army officers and biathletes.”