Area shooters excel at home and abroad

Gracin Anderson and Eli Christman began their skeet shooting careers with the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program sponsored by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. Both have graduated from that program and are striving to take their shooting careers to the highest level. (Photos Contributed)

What youngster hasn't watched the Olympics and dreamed of bringing home the gold someday. Whether it's running, fencing, skiing, swimming or whatever sport, everyone can appreciate standing atop the platform while they raise the American flag and The Star Spangled Banner plays.

For two young shooters in Southeast Tennessee, the dream is alive. It might be a distant, hard-to-achieve dream - but a dream nonetheless. Gracin Anderson, a Lee University student from McMinn County and Eli Christman, a Martin Methodist College student from Chattanooga both hope that someday they might be gunning for the gold.

"Yes, I've always watched the Olympics and had a dream to do it," said Anderson. "But I didn't have the athletic skill or means to actually do it until I started shooting."

Both Anderson and Christman began their skeet shooting careers through the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program sponsored by the Tennessee Wildlife Federation. SCTP provides youngsters, age 9 through college, an opportunity to participate in shotgun shooting sports like trap, skeet, and sporting clays with peers from across the state. There are more than 2,000 athletes participating annually.

Anderson and Christman have both graduated from SCTP and each has a laundry list of awards and honors from major competitions in the USA and internationally. They each compete in the USA Shooting organization competitions, "dedicated to preparing American athletes to win Olympic and Paralympic medals." The route to ultimately be chosen to represent the USA at the Olympics is arduous and complicated.

Anderson's most recent challenge was to shoot a "Minimum Qualifying Score" (MQS) in Quadalajara, Mexico at the Championship of the Americas, allowing her to move on to the next step. Even with that step achieved, however, Anderson will ultimately be shooting against powerhouse skeet shooters such as Kimberly Rhode, well-known as one of the greatest female skeet shooters of all time with six Olympic medals already to her credit.

Anderson understands it will be an uphill battle but says, "I think I have a chance."

Christman already has his MQS under his belt. Most recently he defended his SCTP college skeet crown in Ohio, by hitting 199 of 200 targets. His only miss was due to an ammo malfunction. In Christman's most recent international competition in Korea, he came in 15th in the world. Turning 21 years old, however, he will graduate from shooting with "the juniors."

"I'm now playing with the big boys," he said.

He admits the distant dream is to compete in the Olympics but says it is most important to just try and move ahead one step at a time.

"It's always been a game against myself," said Christman. "What can I push myself to in the new division."

Anderson and Christman will shoot in numerous competitions in the coming year. However the two most important are Olympic Team selection matches, one in the Fall of 2019 and another in Spring of 2020.

Both shooters say they typically practice three to five days a week, shooting 250 rounds per practice.

"SCTP taught me a lot about hard work," said Anderson. "I'd say shooting is 20 percent technical skill and expertise and 80 percent mental."

Christman puts the ratio even higher.

"Once you get the technical down it's all mental," he said. "At our level I would say it's 90 percent mental and 10 percent technical."

Numerous high schools in our area field SCTP teams. To learn more about the program or to find a team near you, go here.

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