Ginny Thrasher Shortens Rifle Learning Curve on Road to Rio
Anyone who has met or spoken with Ginny Thrasher usually ends up with the same description of her personality: bubbly.
Not the stereotypical, air-heady kind. More engaging, friendly, opinionated. Vivacious.
When Thrasher raises her rifle toward the 10-ring target 50 meters downrange, the other side of her personality takes over. Determined, focused, confident.
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That's the part that pushed the 19-year-old to become the first freshman rifle shooter to win both individual NCAA titles and earn a spot at the Rio Olympics in less than a month.
"When it comes to anything that's a challenge — a test, a competition, training — it's very easy for her to dial in that concentration," said Jon Hammond, Thrasher's rifle coach at West Virginia University. "She's still a very friendly person when she's shooting, but becomes a very focused individual."
Thrasher, even from a young age, gravitated toward challenges. The harder it was, the more she seemed to like it.
Shooting a rifle on the elite level is a large-caliber challenge centered upon the process: setup, path of the gun to the target, reaching a state of mental and physical calm to squeeze the trigger at the precise moment.
Thrasher loved trying to piece together the puzzle of process, searching not for a single answer, but the one that worked for her.
"What's most attractive of rifle is the mental side of the sport," she said. "Anyone can go and hit a 10, it's not that hard. To go and shoot 10 after 10 after 10 in a big event is very hard. You have to have a mastery of the mental side, controlling your emotions, following your process and not thinking about the outcome."
Mastering the mental is something that usually comes with experience; young shooters often don't grasp the nuances older shooters have honed through years of competition.
Thrasher condensed the learning curve, becoming a world-class shooter in five short years.
She wanted to be an Olympic figure skater when she was younger, but became enthralled with shooting after joining her grandfather, father and two older brothers on a hunting trip.
On the second day of the trip, the group stopped to eat lunch when Thrasher's father, Roger, told her there was a deer right behind her. Thrasher grabbed her gun, leaned against a tree and, to the surprise of her family, not only pulled the trigger, but took down the deer.
"The adrenaline rush was incredible," Thrasher said.
Not long after that, Thrasher began shooting with the air rifle team at West Springfield (Va.) High School and went on to win the 2015 air rifle state championship. She also won five medals at the 2015 USA Shooting national championships to earn a spot on the U.S. National Team.
Recruited by numerous colleges out of high school, Thrasher decided to attend national shooting powerhouse West Virginia. Though Hammond wasn't sure if she would be among the top five for the 18-time champion Mountaineers, Thrasher established herself as one of the nation's best shooters by the end of the year.
"What makes the situation more unique is the improvement she made over the course of the year," said Hammond, a two-time Olympic shooter for Great Britain. "The improvement she made from the start of the year to the end was dramatic."
Even so, it was hard to predict what she would do during a four-week period this spring.
Thrasher entered the NCAA championships confident, yet was more focused on helping the four seniors with her to win a national championship in Akron, Ohio. The Mountaineers did just that and Thrasher had two added bonuses: Individual national championships in small-bore and air rifle with many of her family and friends watching.
Thrasher had another week of school after that, spent spring break in Costa Rica with her family, then headed to Fort Benning, Georgia, for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Again focused on shooting her best, not possible outcomes, she pulled off another surprise by building a massive lead after two days of the three-position event to earn a spot in Rio.
"That was a pretty crazy month for me," Thrasher said.
It didn't stop there.
A week after the trials, Thrasher went to Rio for an Olympic test event and came back for the final week of school. From there, she headed to Colorado, Munich, the Czech Republic, home to northern Virginia, France, Georgia, Germany and back home again.
Chaotic, yes, but it's all part of the process, one that has led her to Rio next month.