Shooting is My New Paralympic Sport—How Did THAT happen?

Tricia DowningBlog2 Comments

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“Aristotle has taught me we all need a target to shoot at. We must have goals to guide our actions and energies. The Greek word for target was telos. Human beings are teleological creatures. We are hard-wired to live purposively, to have direction. Without a target to shoot at, our lives are literally aimless. Without something productive to do, without positive goals and a purpose, a human being languishes. And then one of two things happens. Aimlessness begins to shut a person down in the spiritual lethargy and emptiness, or the individual lashes out and turns to destructive goals just to make something happen.”

—Tom Morris, The Art of Achievement

I will admit I am a serial goal setter. I typically set more goals than I have the time or capacity to achieve, which often leaves me feeling frustrated and unsettled, but I figure that’s the least of two evils. I’d rather that, than the complete and utter disappointment or emptiness that I feel when I suddenly find myself without focus or direction. As stated above—Aimless.

I know we all have goals. We have to. Things like making money, keeping the house (somewhat, in my case) clean. Putting food on the table each day. But the goals that get me up in the morning with a true purpose, are those that are linked to my passion. Sports.

I find it unfortunate that I have met people who don’t have knowledge of their passions (or haven’t taken the time to develop them), and the drive to set goals that draw them in so completely that they don’t know what to do without them. Speaking for myself, I’d be lost.

But although I continually have this internal desire to set and follow my goals, the past few years I’ve experienced the severe discomfort of having those goals lying in front of me like a mirage and just when I think I can hold them in my hands they disappear.

Without my athletic goals, I wouldn’t have made it so optimistically through four months in the hospital following my accident. Just ask my therapists who thought I was crazy for planning my first marathon even before I was able to get out of the hospital bed and sit in a wheelchair. It was December and I was planning a June marathon, when my therapist informed me that not only did I not know how to get myself into a sitting position, but that I didn’t own a racing chair. And if I did, I had no idea how to propel it forward. No worries, I thought, those are just details.

It was that same need to get back in the thick of competitive athletics that led me to my latest endeavor, my new sport—shooting, and the one I have become gripped with over the last ten months. In my lifetime, I’ve gone from gymnast to swimmer to diver to cyclist, wheelchair racer, triathlete and handcyclist, but for some reason, this one seems to stump many of those around me.

How on earth did I get started in shooting??

Well, there is a long version of the story and a short version of the story. The short version is that my body (namely my back and hip) have broken down to a point that a great deal of activity—riding longer than two-three hours or pushing a racing chair—are at this point, not a possibility for me without causing massive pain or further structural damage to my body. It all came to a head with a back surgery I had in 2012, from which I never fully recovered. That surgery took place in June of ’12 and I spent the entire summer in bed. I couldn’t get out of bed for more than maybe an hour at a time (unless I had to, in which case, it was lots of pain meds and clinching teeth). And that summer was probably more difficult and depressing to me than my original accident. I stopped eating and dropped to 115 pounds. I was not fun to be around (just ask my husband) and I continually feared what my life would be without sports. I know that at some point all athletes have to retire, but I was tired of having that decision made for me. I had to quit gymnastics because I grew to 5’11” (that and injuring my knee), had to quit cycling because of a run-in with a car, quit rowing because of my back, and thought I was merely taking a break from triathlon when I started rowing and regretted never having the opportunity to get back to the sport I had fallen in love with.

So, I tried—I really did—to move on. To find other things interesting. To find something that made me want to jump out of bed each morning. And sure, there were some suitable substitutes, but nothing that I felt the passion for as I do sports and competition. Finally, in 2014 when I started feeling slightly less pain, I got on the bike a bit and it felt okay. Good enough to book a ticket to the U.S. Handcycling Nationals—but I was slow. Not in great shape. Couldn’t put in the time and effort I needed to because of the pain. It was good, but it didn’t fuel the fire like it used to.

That summer at Camp Discovery, the three-day camp I created to help other female wheelchair users find their fitness passions, I had the opportunity to shoot a rifle and loved it. Not that I did anything about it that August, but when November rolled around and I was bored because I wasn’t doing my usual winter training of lifting and riding the trainer, I called USA Shooting and inquired about para shooting. As luck would have it, there was a beginning camp the following week at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the National Team Coach offered to let me come for a few days to try it out. I shot half a day with the rifle and liked it, though it tweaked my back and was slightly uncomfortable. But at lunch, one of the other shooters talked me into pistol, told me it was more difficult (and therefore more badass—sorry to my rifle shooting friends) and as I am always up for an athletic challenge, I changed to pistol that afternoon and didn’t look back.

Now, I’m shooting pistol with the hope of making it to the 2016 Paralympic Games, but with the small fact tucked in the back of my mind that the oldest Olympian ever was a 72-year-old shooter, so if it takes me that long to get good, so be it. I have time. No need to panic.

That’s one of the great things about shooting. You can be old, young, thin, roundish, super fit or not. You can train in jeans or a skirt, or probably in your jammies (though you have to be a little more athletically dressed in competition). And shooters come from all walks of life. I’ve met some of the most interesting people and had experiences never before imagined.

With that said, shooting is anything but an easy, laid back sport. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things I have done. It’s different than any sport I have experienced. The closest thing I can compare it to is doing the balance beam when I was a gymnast. Most of the sports I have done have been about beating the clock, going harder, pushing your heart rate. In shooting, it’s about control. It’s clearing your mind of all chatter, sticking to the same process over and over again and slowing things down. It takes such mental control—something I thought I was good at—but have learned that I have a lot of perfecting to do in that area. Needless to say, I love the challenge, the competition and the ability to learn something new.

I am currently shooting two events, the air pistol and the sport pistol. And since my new friend Stephanie Fryer has so eloquently described the events, I will link you to her blog to learn more. Steph and I have been on much the same trajectory as she started shooting just a month or two before me and has already done two World Cups (BTW….she is an able-bodied shooter, which makes for a few small differences in the competitions we will go to, the scores we need to hit, etc.). However, we do share quite a few commonalities, especially the one where we both, not long ago, were afraid of guns. Read here about air pistol and sport pistol.

I realize my long winded nature may cause many people to lose interest, so for now I will pause the story, but if you’d like to learn more about shooting or follow my journey, check back because I have a lot of great lessons to share. In the meantime, check out www.usashooting.org to learn more.

 

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