When 23-year-old Sarah Beard toes the line to train for the 2016 Olympic team, she’s just following a family tradition. After all, her father won a silver medal at the 1982 World Shooting Championships and was on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team in Los Angeles.
But her time on the range and at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs has also taught Sarah about another family—a close-knit family of competitive shooters who share hopes and dreams of Olympic gold next year.
I am not what you’d call a “gun nut.” I’m not overly concerned with having a gun with me at all times. People learn what I do in competitions, and suddenly think that at any given moment they’re about to witness a showdown at the O.K. Corral. That’s not me, either. I am a shooter. And for me, firearms have very deep roots in my childhood, identity and future.
Growing up, hunting was a family tradition. It taught my brothers and me about living off the land, ethics and the relationship between safety and common sense. Whether sitting in a tree stand or a duck blind, I almost always hunted with a family member, and usually on our family’s property. Our family’s policy of “Never sell guns, and never sell land” reflects our value of enriching our relationships with each other.
The other side of the story begins 48 years ago, when my father followed in his brother’s footsteps and joined his college’s varsity rifle team as a walk-on. After years of training and numerous accomplishments, he worked his way onto the 1982 U.S. World Championship team and the 1984 Olympic team. Knowing about the boxes and boxes of plaques and trophies stored in our attic, I eventually convinced my dad to take me to a shooting match. Honestly, it was a pretty miserable first match, but I was hooked. I loved the shooting, and I loved being able to compete alongside my dad.
After a few years of practicing air rifle in my basement, I shot my way onto the Texas Christian University Women’s Rifle team—also as a walk-on—where we won two NCAA national championships during my time on the team. Some coaching and many hours into my freshman year, I joined the U.S. National Shooting Team. Close to making the Olympic team in 2012, I am currently training at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for Rio 2016.
Shooting has allowed me to find who I am. I love the intense attention to detail, striving for perfection and learning to love the pressure. But even more than this, I have found a community within competitive shooting.
At first it surprised me that top athletes—including Olympic medalists—freely sacrifice time and advice to help others improve, but now I know it is simply part of how this sport works. Through shooting, I have developed the discipline and toughness that have gotten me through major life accomplishments and losses, and I have found a group of people to support me through those times. People from other sports find it strange that I am such good friends with my closest competitors, but to me it’s natural and continues my idea of shooting as a family tradition.
Now, I’m opening my horizons to other aspects of shooting. People from other circles of shooting have welcomed me to Colorado, and I immediately began to feel at home here. While my focus remains on the 2016 Olympics, I hope to eventually compete in 3-gun and long-range rifle competitions. I have learned that my precision shooting community—while familiar and tight-knit—is only a fraction of the entire shooting family I am slowly getting to know.