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March 19, 2008

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True Grit

Years ago on a Texas dove hunt I shared a spot with a competitive trap shooter. When I asked how he handled the pressure of an event, he said, “When I get to the line, my blood turns to ice water. I’m cool, I’m calm. Nothing bothers me.”

I’ve yet to reach that stage. I’m not sure I ever will. That kind of focus, that kind of intensity, is the hallmark of a great athlete. In competition my biggest enemy is…me. And even though I know you’re not supposed to worry about misses and focus only on the bird before you, the mind under duress can play truly evil games.

Here’s just one example. A friend of mine got to the last station in a Sporting Clays event and found he was leading the field. He said to himself, ”This is an easy station. I got this thing won.” Whereupon he promptly dropped eight out of ten and lost.

All this came to mind when I heard that Olympic champion Kim Rhode just qualified for the USA Olympic shooting team in International Skeet. It was a nerve-wracking ordeal, and Rhode won by a single target. To seal the win, she had, under enormous pressure, to break her final two targets. That in itself is a major accomplishment. But consider this: International Skeet really isn’t her game. She took the gold medal in Women’s Trap Doubles at the 2004 Olympics, an event that was dropped after the games ended.

Rather than simply exulting in her victory, she faced a daunting decision: either retire from Olympic competition or start all over again in a new event. Rhode opted for the latter and began a long training program with the objective of making the U.S. National Shooting Team in International Skeet.

She succeeded. She then not only won the gold medal in her first World Cup as an International Skeet shooter, but set a new world record in her World Cup debut.

That kind of determined success reminds me of Tiger Woods. When he’s on a roll, which lately seems to be always, he’s relentless. So is Rhode. I’ve met her, and in social situations she is a graceful spokesperson for the shooting sports. But she is, obviously, a fierce competitor. While training for the 2004 Olympics at the Oak Tree Gun Club near her home in California, she practiced for five to six hours a day, shooting thousands of targets. Just think of the physical and mental stamina needed to do that.

So now Rhode’s efforts have brought her another opportunity to continue her Olympic career.

“Because I had to switch events and become an International Skeet shooter, this victory feels like I’m winning for the first time,” she says. “There are simply no words to describe what I felt at that moment when I knew that I had won.”

Any other athlete who demonstrated the character, determination and success of Rhode would have earned the undivided attention of the mass media. But I fear that because she’s a shooter, mainstream media charts a detour around her and the sport. And that’s shame, for she embodies what Americans cherish most about a champion--grace under pressure. Call it True Grit.

—Slaton White



Great post!

steve thompson

SSSSHHH PLZ BE QUIET WHILE I'M SHOOTING '''just the opposite is true, great shooters are able to blot out surrounding events only concentrating on the next shot . when i was a young bird hunter i tried to lead the birds until and opening appeared in the tree tops , when i asked an older shooter how he did so well he replied that he lead the bird in the tree tops same as if he was in open skies/ my succes rate went up .6phunter

steve thompson

WANT TO HEAR ABOUT ANOTHER SUCCESFUL SHOOTER ? Back in the late seventies early eighties i was a ref for the NATL. SKEET SHOOTING ASSOCIATION, an INDIANA shooter by the name of JOE KIPPER had won in his state matches , came to KENTUCKY AND SHOT SOME OUTSTANDING SCORES . HE was involved in some sort of accident, losing the sight in his dominate shooting eye .THE next year after switching the arms and shooting eye he shot respectful scores , THEfollowing year after that he was INDIANA CHAMPION again . my hats off to all great shooters that have shown me how to shoot and live . 6phunter