Going Out on Top

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posted on April 24, 2014
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Jamie Beyerle-Gray’s decision in April to retire from competitive shooting for medical reasons shocked many. According to the USA Shooting Team physiologist, though, her spine has the kind of wear and tear typical of a 70-year-old woman, bad enough during the London games to force her to undergo three injections after an air-rifle match-before her record-setting, 50-meter three-position performance. Her gold medal was one of the three won by U.S. shooters at the XXX Games, eclipsing the record set by American marksmen in 1984, the same year she was born.

Lebanon, Pa., a small city of less than 30,000 residents, is home. Perhaps it felt more like base camp by early 2012, when the Lebanon Daily News reported she traveled between 70,000 and 100,000 miles a year to pursue dreams of Olympic gold. Representing the United States was the last thing on her mind when she accompanied her brother to BB gun matches at a local rod and gun club, but by eight years old she was behind the trigger, and a national champion by 13.

She then started shooting Olympic-style competitions. “I didn’t even know shooting was an Olympic sport,” she told the Lebanon Daily News. “That’s when I got the itch.”

But she was a member of the National Honor Society playing varsity basketball, softball and soccer while in high school. West Point recruited her to play soccer and shoot, but she decided instead to concentrate on marksmanship and headed to shooting powerhouse University of Alaska-Fairbanks.

She earned NRA Collegiate All-American status in smallbore rifle and air rifle three times, each, while there. She won the NCAA rifle championships, as a member of the school’s team and individually.

In 2002, she won silver in the junior women’s 3x20 rifle event during the International Shooting Sports Foundation’s World Championships in Finland. In 2003 she claimed the Austin Trophy at Camp Perry, and took home the Collegiate Champion title. The same year she traveled to Croatia for the World Cup and claimed gold. But she failed to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2004.

Things were different in 2008. She made the team and traveled to Beijing, with disappointing top-five finishes in two disciplines. “Jamie went through extremely tough physical challenges on the road to her fourth and fifth-place finishes in Beijing that would have retired most athletes,” USA Shooting Operations Director Dave Johnson told USA Shooting News. “After painfully just missing the podium in China and overcoming those obstacles, Jamie briefly grieved and then went back to work on setting herself up to win in London….Jamie’s legacy in my view will be that there are no shortcuts, there are many very tough challenges on the road to reaching tough goals, and that you don’t leave stones unturned.”

A few days after her record-setting performance in London, Beyerle-Gray told reporters she’s interested in coaching. “I’m sure we will hear an audible sigh of relief from around the world from Jamie’s competitors upon her retirement-but I’ll enjoy watching her put her experience and skills to work with our next generation of champions that will make that relief short lived,” Johnson said.

“It was a dream come true to stand on the top of the podium representing the United States hearing our national anthem being played,” Beyerle-Gray told USA Shooting News.

Marksmanship depends on the ability to maintain a sight picture on target-despite distractions. And Beyerle-Gray is living proof that the skill honed on the firing line translates eloquently to any long-term endeavor.

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