The Racer rifle team has a winning legacy. Holding the most individual and team NCAA titles in school history the team is in competition with the best every season, and this year is no exception.
Rifle is, however, an individual sport, and while the team competes together during its OVC season, without successful individuals, the team would not be able to compete at all.
In 1984 Pat Spurgin Pitney joined the Racer rifle team as a freshman, thanks primarily to her connections to the team and Murray State’s engineering and physics program. She spent the majority of that semester on the road, hitting international matches when she wasn’t traveling with Racer rifle.
“In the fall I started school late because I was at the championships in Austria and so I came in a week and a half late, but then the rest of the fall wasn’t too bad,” Pitney said. “I took the normal load in the fall. In the spring I only took the minimum 12 credits and I was traveling eight full weeks of that spring semester I took math and physics so that I could do all my work on the road for the most part. I spent a lot of time traveling and training for different competitions. That summer was the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where Pitney became the first Racer to medal in the Olympics, bringing home gold for her performance in air rifle. Instead of pursuing a career in shooting immediately following her Olympic appearance, Pitney chose to return to Murray State both to finish her degree and to continue to grow as a shooter.
“It was a time of true amateur athletics, at least in the shooting sports,” Pitney said. “So my choices were get a very small sponsorship or stay in school. My plan was to continue to compete in shooting, so I wanted to be able to stay in school, so I chose to stay because there wasn’t the make-the-money options that there are for Olympic athletes now. Not that I would have changed my mind, I don’t think, even then, because you’d have to make a lot of money to replace an education and the training opportunity. I think the NCAA rifle teams across the country provide the very best training opportunity for making it to the international level. So even though my goal was to continue on the international team I planned to stay and graduate college.”
The following fall Murray State took notice of both her sport and Pitney, bringing the young shooter into the limelight.
“I went back in the fall to Murray and I was a bit of a celebrity, which was very hard for me to handle, being in a fairly non-public sport,” Pitney said. “Boy, when you win a gold medal there’s a lot of visibility that goes along with it. I did a lot of speeches and a lot of appearances and demonstrations explaining what is this sport of shooting. But then for the most part I was just kind of a regular student. I studied and continued to compete.”
Despite her success as an individual, Pitney holds that her success as a member of the Murray State team meant more to her than Olympic gold.
“My sophomore year myself and three freshmen won the NCAA championships, Murray’s first win,” she said. “That was a really cool accomplishment. Winning individually and winning as a team is totally different, and it’s so much more satisfying winning as a team. So bringing that first national championship home, it was really nice to bring a win home for Elvis Green, our coach. Because he would have done anything for anybody. Then my junior year we had a strong showing but we were second that year by a point or two. Then my senior year we won as a team at the NCAA championship, pretty much the same group with the exception of one additional person.”
After her senior year at Murray Sate Pitney traveled to the Olympic training facility at Colorado Springs for a season and then began her rifle career at the University of Alaska shortly thereafter.
“I went to Colorado Springs and lived at the training center throughout the summer then moved to Alaska and got married and had kids,” Pitney said. “That was sort of the end of the shooting career and it was okay. Just a whole new chapter of life. And now my kids are about to get married, which is hard to imagine.”
Though her career at the University of Alaska would seem to pit her against the Racers, she will always be a part of Racer history, and has nothing but good will for this year’s team.
Story by Kyra Ledbetter, Staff writer.