I thought I was done with endurance sports. Five years ago today I was in Kona on the eve the Hawaii Ironman preparing for my race. I was ready, technically speaking, to go the distance. I knew I would wake up at 3:45am Saturday morning and if all went to plan, I would be racing until the sun went down. I had to prepare my mind for hours upon hours on the Queen K highway, temperatures of 100+ degrees radiating from the pavement merely inches under my handcycle. The wind would be brutal, enough to knock you off the road. I had to prepare myself for swimming 2.4 miles in salt water that in 2006, when I did the same race, I ended up throwing up for the first 10 miles of the bike ride. Kona, as any Ironman, is a physically draining race, and when you wake up in the morning, the first thing you think to yourself is, “this is going to be a very long day.”
Five years later and I’m doing something I had never imagined. I have made a complete transition in sport and am competing in Olympic style shooting—both in the 10m air pistol event and the 25m sport (.22) pistol. Although this sport is light years away from the demands and trials of an Ironman, the challenge is not so different. Both require amazing mental focus, strength, and tenacity. While it sounds difficult to be on a racecourse for an entire day (for some people a full 17 hours), it can be equally brutal to endure a 50-minute match (which is what my air pistol matches are—40 shots in 50 minutes). It’s a short amount of time when compared with the Ironman, but the focus that is required is so tight (that’s the only word I can come up with for it), that you can’t allow your brain to go in one wrong direction for even a split second. Whereas in the Ironman, a common thought in my head might be, “I’d really like a big, juicy cheeseburger after this race,” to have that thought cross my mind while shooting would certainly spell disaster for my competition. I have learned that lesson over and over again in my short time of shooting. Focus is number one.
Just last night in a practice finals match, I managed to be in first place from the beginning of the match. For seventeen shots, my competitors were lined up alongside me, the noise level at the range a mere hum and each of us maintained a serious and attentive demeanor. For seventeen shots, I scored nines and tens and stayed in the lead. But on shot 18, I let a thought, just one random spattering of words seep into my brain and the outcome was far from what I had hoped. A 6.9! How did that happen, when I was shooting so well? I lost my focus and in the instant the pellet left my gun, I made a movement that would throw the whole competition off course and I would end up in third place.
To me, this new sport is an amazing challenge. I love the way it forces me to calm my mind, the way it reminds me that every shot is it’s own being. There is no course correction. When the trigger is pulled, the results on the target don’t lie. And it can be nearly impossible, if not downright, to come back from a bad shot—a nanosecond of bad thought, whether damaging self-talk or just a random thought. Suffice it to say, I find it to be the least forgiving sport I have ever encountered.
But still we shoot for perfection. The end game, of course, is to win. In shooting, a perfect score on a single shot is 10.9. I will say I still haven’t seen many of them, but when I do, it’s a moment to celebrate because I know that in that shot everything has come together. My mind has calmed and cleared, my hand and breath are steady. And my trigger pull right on target. But it’s only one shot. And then the focus has to start over again. Because getting it right once is only part of the battle. It’s being able to keep coming back to that place again and again until it feels like home.
Today, 10/9, the competitive shooting community celebrates the discipline and drive it takes to make that perfect shot, and the belief that no matter where you are on the spectrum from beginner to elite, we all have something for which to aim, goals to set and a reason to keep an eye on the target.