2013 Legion air rifle champion sets sight on 2020 Olympics
Rachel Martin, middle, is The American Legion's 2013 precision Junior 3-Position Air Rifle Championship winner. Photo by Chet Strange/The American Legion

2013 Legion air rifle champion sets sight on 2020 Olympics

Rachel Martin has recently completed her first year as a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Her Olympic dreams started in college while attending the University of Nebraska, even though shooting air rifle has been a part of her life since she was 8 years old.

“I don’t know if (making it to on the Olympic shooting team) is going to happen, but I can know at the end of these three years that I earned it,” said Martin, 23, who graduated from college last May.

Her training for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo is at the USA Shooting Range where The American Legion’s Junior 3-Position Air Rifle National Championship is being held this week. She watched as the eight finalists in both the precision and sporter category competed July 28 for the championship title – one that she holds.

Martin of Peralta, N.M., is The American Legion’s 2013 air rifle precision champion, a title she captured on her third appearance in the competition. Watching the championship finals brings back memories for Martin of competing in the Legion’s program and what she learned from it, as well as why she loves the sport and what she has learned in her years of marksmanship. She shared these thoughts with The American Legion.

The American Legion: How did you get involved with shooting air rifles?

Martin: We were involved with 4H, showing dairy goats, and my dad was asked to coach the air rifle team. My dad would have practice two times a week for the (Valencia County) 4H group and no one was coming, so he made my sisters go to start up the program. Two of my sisters shot so I started too. I hated it at first. I absolutely hated it because I was so bad at it; it was painful.

Q: What changed for you to stick with it?

A: I don’t ever think that I thought I could be good at it because it was a struggle. But it was really good because it was time that my dad, my sisters and I would spend together, and my mom would come too. It was really good family time. We always went to church on Sundays and then we would go to the range. I loved that and that’s part of why I like shooting now. I even still train with my dad sometimes, and it’s great. My dad and I are like best friends, and I don’t think without shooting we would have necessarily had that relationship. So it’s nice that shooting has given us that. I think that was a big part of me liking it.

Q: What do you enjoy about the sport?

A: The biggest thing is getting to know myself in it. Having to face who I am, and my values and my morals, it has been really good for that. I rarely go through a match where there’s not a frustrating point and that’s been the best thing for me to face.

And I love the feeling of taking a good shot; I will always love that. And seeing growth is really cool.

Q: How did you get involved with The American Legion’s air rifle tournament and what did you enjoy about it?

A: My sister Katie competed in it and made it here to Colorado Springs. Then I started shooting precision and wanted to shoot in this match. I got pretty lucky that I got to do it three years.

The roommates that I had for those three years, I’m actually still friends with now. I have a little invite in (my notebook), my roommate (Melissa) my first year at the competition is getting married soon in Pennsylvania and I’m in her wedding. I really liked the people at The American Legion’s competition. They want to interact and become best friends; Melissa and I have been best friends since I was 13. And that’s really nice. I remember someone’s sight was broke and another competitor let them borrow theirs. They were very good about sharing. I think the sportsmanship was the biggest part of this match, which is unfortunately different from a lot of other matches.

Q: What did you learn from competing three times in the Legion’s national air rifle tournament?

A: Two matches in a day is hard and definitely more challenging. My first two times out here I would get so tired by the end and on the last match I would just fall out because I was so tired. So the last year before we came I would train twice a day. I remember being tired but it wasn’t like I couldn’t perform. It really paid off. It probably took the most preparation for this match than any other match in high school.

Q: How has shooting air rifle personally helped you?

A: Personally, I noticed I’ve grown a lot. I used to be so shy and so introverted. Shooting helped me get over the shyness because people were really nice and everybody is super helpful. Even like at (The American Legion’s) match, having to room with another person and get to respect their pre-competition routine and make friends with them. It was really great for me. I think my personal confidence grew a lot through shooting.

Q: What words of advice or encouragement do you have for marksmen participating in The American Legion’s air rifle program?

A: It’s kind of cliché because a lot of people say it, but it’s really the work ethic. I know a lot of people spend a lot of hours on the range but I don’t know that always matches up with their work ethic. Be smart with your training. And I guess being able to trust what you have been doing so when you go into a match it’s not like this panic mode of, "Oh I don’t know if this is actually going to work out or not." Rifle is not always fair. I don’t think life is always fair in probably any other sport. So I think that’s when that work ethic has to come in when the passion is not there. That work ethic can carry you through.