On an untypical day for Kim Rhode, meaning a day off from shooting 800 shells, the renowned six-time Olympic medal winner takes this call while in a restaurant warehouse near her home in Los Angeles. Her friend is building a shooting range in El Monte, called LA Clays. It’ll be the largest shooting range on the West Coast. “I’m out here, and my husband has been digging trenches,” says Kim, laughing.
Kim is the superstar of the competitive shotgun world—winning her first Ladies World Champion title in American skeet at the age of 13. Now, 26 years later, she has won 14 National Championships, six Olympic medals and 50 international medals on five continents, including world cups, world championships, world cup finals and Pan American games. She was the first American in any individual sport to win six Olympic medals (three gold, one silver and two bronze) in six consecutive Olympic Games. During her Olympic career, Kim has also competed in all three shotgun events: double trap, international skeet and bunker trap. She just missed in her attempt to make her seventh Olympic Games, which was scheduled to be in Tokyo this summer. The games are now scheduled to be in Tokyo in 2021.
When she’s not training, Kim gives back to not only the shooting sports, but also to Second Amendment advocacy. She’s on the Board of Directors for Kids and Clays Foundation (raising money for Ronald McDonald Houses through shooting events), the California Rifle & Pistol Association and the National Rifle Association. She also serves as the Chairman of the International Shooting Sports Federation’s (ISSF) Athletes Committee, which represents competitive shooters throughout the world.
A1F: Is preparing for big competitions now normal for you?
Rhode: I don’t think it ever gets old. Each one is unique, and the journey to get there is different. For example, in London I was pregnant with my son, versus Rio when I was trying to overcome having my son. Each one is unique. When I look back at 1996, I was just a kid. It’s more about what life throws at you and the obstacles that you have to overcome.
A1F: When does the training begin for the next Olympics or does it ever end if you want to go to the next one?
Rhode: We usually get a year off from the last Olympics. Usually the process to make the Olympics takes about two years. Each Olympics is so different in how they select their teams. The United States has changed it each time. Sometimes, it’s based on the points you won at World Cups or World Championships, but for the 2020 (now 2021) Olympics, none of that counts. It’s all based on two matches.
A1F: Have there been any changes/policies on the USA Shooting team throughout the years that are for the better?
Rhode: Everybody wants what’s best for the athletes and we want the best team to go. Personally, I think the best way to select that is over a process with World Cups and championships, because those are the people that are performing against the people that they’ll be competing against at the Olympics. But at the same time, we are fostering the future, with future athletes. It’s a tough balance. It changes every year. I think leaving it the same would benefit everybody.
A1F: What has changed in your regimen for practice, if anything?
Rhode: After having my son, Carter, I had some severe complications. My ability to walk and to do normal things was a challenge for me, so I’ve done a lot of physical therapy and working with experts to try to overcome that and build my endurance. It’s been a long process and a long road, but I’m much better than I was in Rio. One of the things that I use the most is a device called “The Reformer,” which is a form of Pilates and has been instrumental in my recovery—especially with no impact. It has really helped me build my core and to perform at my best. It’s been a long process, but we’re getting there. I went from not being able to walk a block to now being able to walk a good amount.
A1F: How many shells are you shooting per day in training?
Rhode: I used to shoot 1,000 shells a day, but because of my endurance I haven’t been able to do that as much. I’m up to around 800 per day, seven days a week.
A1F: This Olympics, you made the team in a different way, as an alternate. What does that mean to you?
Rhode: I’m really good with it because I know that I did everything I possibly could and I put it all out there. The two girls that made the team are going to do our country proud. I actually coached one of them. She came and stayed with me. We had Thanksgiving with her family. We were all a bit shocked, but now we just move forward and focus on 2024 in Paris. That’s what we’re doing.
A1F: Who are your sponsors for this year?
Rhode: Randolph Engineering, Beretta, Winchester Ammunition and Truck Vault.
A1F: It sounds as though your family is very supportive.
Rhode: My mom holds my calendar. My dad is my coach. My husband keeps the fort down at home, especially with getting our son to the places he needs to go. It’s a team effort—all hands on deck. It’s really not something you can do on your own. It takes a lot of help and support from a lot of different people. I think people forget that when they see an Olympic medal. It’s really not just you. Everyone has a little slice of it.
A1F: Speaking of youth, what do you think about the talent coming up through the ranks? Is there enough young blood?
Rhode: We can always use more shooters. Overall, we’re seeing more families and more youth getting involved because of these programs. We always want more, because we want to make sure the shooting sports are around for the next generation.
A1F: In your spare time, we know that you work on classic cars (with your dad). What are you working on now?
Rhode: We’ve been working on a 1945 Ford pickup truck. We still have the wiring to do. We’re always tinkering.
A1F: You also collect first-edition books. Do you have some favorite authors that you would just buy their books without hesitation?
Rhode: For sure. As far as new books, I’m always looking. I think that half the fun is in the hunt. I’m really into the illustrators—W. W. Denslow, Kate Greenway, Arthur Rackham. Denslow was the first illustrator for the “The Wizard of Oz” (1939), and used a lot of bold colors and lines and was simplistic in nature; whereas Kate Greenway’s are more whimsical. Each one is unique and I’m drawn to the art side.
A1F: Let’s talk about what’s going on in California? How do you feel about the new laws and how they affect the shotgun sports?
Rhode: I think it’s made it extremely challenging for the shooting ranges, businesses and coaches to be able to pass it on to future generations and that’s the ultimate goal.
A1F: Would you elaborate about Prop. 63, the “Safety for All Act,” and the case Rhode v. Becerra? (Passed and signed in 2016, this law requires a background check before taking delivery of ammunition, prohibits possession of so-called “large-capacity” ammunition magazines, requires reporting of ammunition sales to the California Department of Justice, requires sellers of ammunition to report lost or stolen ammunition within 48 hours and levies fines and criminal charges to those who do not comply. The California Rifle & Pistol Association, supported by the National Rifle Association, filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in April 2018, which challenged the restrictions placed on the sale and transfer of ammunition.)
Rhode: I’m the lead plaintiff on this case. It’s very challenging. To give you an example, before this passed, I would receive my allotment of ammunition. [An ammo company] would either mail it to me or to a shoot that I’m going to be at. I would drive it across the state line to save money. All those ways are illegal now. It’s made it extremely challenging for me. It’s impossible for me to get my ammo at this time in the quantities that I need. Even if I were to get my ammo—if there is some miraculous way which I have yet to find—I wouldn’t be able to leave the facility with one shell. It’s not just me, but a lot of people don’t realize that this also is affecting law enforcement. I know quite a few [law enforcement] people who have been denied their ability to get ammo. A lot of competitive shooters are suffering, because they have matches inside and outside of California, because you can’t go across that state line with ammunition. It goes to show how stupid the law is, and how it doesn’t work. It does affect my ability to get ammo. It does affect my ability to be able to train at the highest level. It does affect my ability to pass on the knowledge that I have to future generations.
Meanwhile, California’s SB 61, passed and signed last year, expands California’s one handgun per month law to long guns.
They are trying to prevent us from continuing the sport of shooting and to be able to pass that knowledge on to future generations. Several ranges have seen huge losses, because people aren’t willing to jump through so many hoops. We have to work twice as hard to encourage people to come out so we can introduce them to the great sports we have, whether that’s rifle, pistol or shotgun.
A1F: Is there other legislation worth watching of late in California?
Rhode: It’s really interesting times in California. We’re fighting a new one coming down the line, AB 3071, that prohibits the use of ammunition that has not been certified as lead free at shooting ranges and indoor ranges. It was introduced on Feb. 21, 2020. I don’t think people realize how important our rights are until something like COVID-19 comes along, and now they’re out there buying guns left and right.
A1F: You also contribute to the Olympics in other ways, other than being on the team.
Rhode: I’m on the committee for the International Shooting Sports Federation as a rep for the athletes. So, even if I’m not competing at the Tokyo Olympics, I’ll be there representing the athletes. I’ve been on the calls, since COVID-19 started, and I’m really glad that they’ve decided to postpone. They’re saying the Tokyo Olympics can’t be any later than the summer of 2021.
A1F: You have not been afraid of politics, and came out during the last Olympics in support of President Donald J. Trump.
Rhode: Yes, I came out in Rio and said that Donald Trump was going to win. We have a president who is definitely pro-Second Amendment. I was on his Second Amendment Coalition. I could not be more excited. He’s done some really great things for us in our industry, but I think there’s a long way to go; especially, when you look at states like California and New York.
A1F: You once said it never gets old to stand on the platform when they play the “national anthem.” Please will you explain what emotions that evokes?
Rhode: So many emotions; it depends upon what it took you to get there. When things are going easy, like when I was shooting 99 out of 100 in London and I walked away with the gold medal, that’s the easy part. It’s when you’re struggling and behind and you’re in a sudden-death shoot-off for the bronze that the emotions come pouring out. It depends upon the process and where you’re at in your life and what it took to get there. I think that’s why each Olympian is so emotional when they’re standing there on the podium. It’s not just about winning the medal, it’s about the obstacles you had to overcome to get there. That’s really what the Olympics represent: overcoming and sticking with it and never giving up. Each one is amazing. It’s an honor to wear the red, white and blue on my back and to represent my country, and to watch that flag go to the top of the pole, and to hear our national anthem and that crowd going absolutely crazy. To have that opportunity, or as my dad says, “the ticket to the dance,” is not something I ever take for granted.
A1F: Why do you stay in California?
Rhode: You know my family has been in California for many generations. My grandfather came to California when he was seven. People say, “Just move away!” When your whole family has been born here and raised here, and California has some of the most diverse ecosystems; you can hunt, fish and competitive shoot, it’s an outdoorsmen’s paradise; it’s really sad when you see these bills being passed because there are a lot of outdoorsmen in the state of California. It’s important for us to band together and let our voices be heard. I think you’re going to see changes in the future. I don’t live in a gated community, but we always felt safe. A lot of people realize that the people writing the bills live in gated communities and are protected by bodyguards who are armed. I think a lot of us are beginning to realize what it means to have the Second Amendment.