Centershots: For the love of the game and my dad

Sophie McDonald
Sports Editor  

For some it’s the swish of a basketball in the net or the splash of a swimmer diving into the pool – it’s the definitive sound of their sport. For others it’s the slice of skates on the ice or the force of bodies colliding on the football field that tells a story of their athletic pursuits.
For me it’s the sound of silence until the long anticipated shot breaks across the cool, gray cement rifle range. With a flick of the wrist, the bolt opens and a small gold cartridge ejects from the rifle, bounces on the ground, echoes in slow motion and brings me comfort found only in shooting.
My love for rifle was cultivated from an early age by my dad. A national high-power rifle shooter himself, he was once in the top-50 shooters in the U.S. Because of my dad’s shooting career and my mom’s involvement as official statistician of almost all of his matches, I had been exposed to target shooting since I was in utero. My sister and I sold concessions at dad’s competitions and learned to score targets and reload ammunition with him at home so we could be more involved as a family.
Because I wanted to be just like my dad in every way, and my dream of playing basketball for the Chicago Bulls didn’t work out, I started shooting on my ninth birthday.
Following my first experience shooting, dad drove me to the rifle range every Saturday morning for a junior rifle program and every Monday night for 4-H rifle club.
After I struggled to grasp the sport, and one of the 4-H coaches told me I would never succeed in shooting, my dad began coaching me. He was the one to discover I was left-eye dominant – an important thing to know for shooting – and the one to push me to excel in everything.
Soon, the weekend of my first competition arrived. Dad and I packed our van the night before the intense match, a small 4-H match in the tiny city of Green River, Ky., and my mom made us a big breakfast before we set out early Saturday morning.
We got to the match and before I knew it my relay arrived. I got settled onto my firing point to shoot the brand new .22-caliber smallbore target rifle, a birthday gift from dad who stood with other parents behind the firing line taking a million and a half pictures to capture the big day.
Then the moment came we had been working toward for months – the first shots of my first competition.
I shot the wrong target and that was my grand entrance into the world of competitive target shooting.
Despite the rough start of the first match, I was in love with the barely-publicized sport and my dreams of success on the rifle range soared along with my match scores over the next several years.
Through those years a .177-caliber air rifle joined my smallbore rifle as local matches turned to statewide competitions, which turned to national competitions. I won the Kentucky 4-H State Championships 11 years in a row and set two state records during my shooting career, and my dream of an Olympic gold medal grew with each passing day.
My mom and dad sacrificed so much time and money to create a platform for me to grasp those dreams, including my dad placing his shooting career on the backburner in order to travel around the country to my competitions instead of his.
Have I mentioned he’s my hero? He is.
After giving up high-power shooting, my dad began teaching himself to shoot international-style so we could compete together, which we did for a few years. Many a day was spent training with him refining our shooting positions, watching videos and listening to tapes on mental management.
My parents learned the ins and outs of Olympic-style rifle and scoring procedures and volunteered at matches, making shooting a true family affair.
Some of my favorite memories of shooting were made during the National Junior Olympics at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where I placed in the top 10 percent of the nation and met some of the greatest people in the world.
Because of shooting I’ve been coached by Olympic champions and met numerous Olympians from all over the world including athletes from other sports such as Michael Phelps, Apolo Ohno and the U.S. Paralympic women’s volleyball team.
Through shooting I learned to focus strategically, analyze productively and think technically. My dad taught me, despite the amount of hours we put into becoming the best shooters we could be, life wasn’t about a sport or reaching the next goal. He was quick to remind me success never satisfies but leaves one searching for the next big break and that my strength was in the Lord and not my own ability.
He pushed me to my limits and then some to build character and develop a spirit of perseverance and he never missed an opportunity to teach a life lesson or remind me of the bigger picture.
In high school, I began pursuing colleges with rifle teams, one of which was Murray State. Because I’m from Paducah, Ky., I was familiar with the impressive rifle program the Racers established and had every intention of one day representing Murray State in the sport I loved. However, due to a shoulder injury and God closing the book on my shooting plans, the chapter of shooting came to an end.
Despite never competing in the OVC Championships or NCAAs with the Murray State team, I am so thankful to have the ability to write about our prestigious rifle team from a perspective different than most writers.
Though my days of shooting competitively are most likely over, the lessons learned through my favorite sport are lasting and applicable to every day life: perfection is unattainable, improvement is always possible and sometimes the best fans, coaches and friends are family.

Contact McDonald.