Area teens aim for junior Olympics

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published February 21, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 20, 2013 at 10:02 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Zach Meyer, an eighth-grader from Cleburne County, recently competed in the Texas Rifle Association State Smallbore and Pellet Rifle Championship at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Meyer hopes to land a spot in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Precision Pellet shooting

Andrew Meyer demonstrates precision pellet gun shooting. (By Rusty Hubbard)
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— They may be only 14 now, but Elizabeth Marsh and Zach Meyer have big plans for 2016. The pair of Heber Springs eighth-graders plan to be in Rio.

It’s not an elaborate vacation plot. Instead, Meyer and Marsh have Olympic aspirations as precision rifle shooters.

“I would love to go for the experience and to represent the USA in a sport that has been around for so long,” Meyer said.

Marsh and Meyer have just started competing at matches in the senior youth division, which includes ages 14-17 at most events. Despite being among the youngest in their division, both shooters did well at the Texas Rifle Association State Smallbore and Pellet Rifle Championship in January at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Marsh took first in three-position .22 rifle in the 14-17-year-old female division and took third in her division in precision pellet rifle. Meyer took first in the men’s three-position .22 rifle 14-17-year-old division and took fifth in his division in precision pellet rifle.

Their performances at the Texas competition may help the pair qualify for the USA Shooting Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs this spring. The announcement on whether they made it to the competition should be made in the next few weeks, and Marsh and Meyer said they’re ready to hear back.

“I don’t feel nervous,” Meyer said, “but I’m definitely anxious to hear about whether we made it.”

Both Marsh and Meyer began their competitive shooting careers in the Cleburne County 4-H shooting sports program. Meyer starting shooting bows when he was young, followed by lots of hunting with his father, Lawrence Meyer. Marsh got her start much the same way, starting with archery and moving on to rifle and shotgun.

“I was in 4-H my first year, and I looked at all the other kids who were shooting and were winning competitions, and I thought that I wanted to be up there with them,” Marsh said.

Marsh soon grew serious about the sport of precision rifle shooting, which involves steady shooting for accuracy at small targets from a standing, kneeling or prone position. The sport can be expensive to get started in, with a rifle costing around $3,500 and the specialized suit costing around $700.

“After those costs, though, it’s not too bad,” Lawrence Meyer said. “If you were shooting a shotgun, clays and rounds could cost $100 a day. But these pellets and the paper targets are more like $5 a day for practice.”

Rick Marsh, recognizing that his daughter’s talent went beyond his coaching skills, helped set up Elizabeth with a coach, Troy Bassham, who lives in Texas. Bassham’s father, Lanny Bassham, was an Olympic rifle shooter in the ’70s, and now the father and son both help train athletes in both shooting skills and focus techniques.

“Ninety-five percent of shooting competitions is a mental game,” Meyer said.

One of the things Coach Bassham (who now works with both Meyer and Marsh several times a year) works on with his students is settling into a pattern with their shooting.

“With Olympic shooters, you can put a timer on it,” Meyer said. “They’ll shoot, wait 18 seconds, shoot again. It helps keep them concentrating on just that shot, nothing that’s already happened.”

Marsh, who is home-schooled, practices several hours a day to perfect her stances and breathing. She’s had to work hardest to master the kneeling position, which Meyer agrees is the hardest position to shoot from.

“It’s extremely uncomfortable,” Meyer said. “It cuts off the blood flow to your feet and puts a lot of pressure on your hands.”

Going to school at Heber Springs Middle School, Meyer said he has less time to practice than his friend Marsh, but still tries to put in at least an hour a day. Both shooters have seen the practice pay off already with high scores and the many friends they’ve met at matches. Meyer said that even between contests, he keeps up with other competitors on Facebook.

Though the duo haven’t reached high school yet, they both hope shooting is what takes them to college. As an NCAA sport at many schools, scholarships aren’t out of the question.

“It’s possible for us to get full rides to college,” Meyer said. “We’re both thinking the University of Kentucky.”

Planning like that is music to the ears of fathers who have been watching their children’s shooting skills develop so quickly. Lawrence Meyer said he hopes more kids in the Cleburne County area get involved with 4-H shooting sports, after all the benefits he’s seen for his son.

“It gets kids involved in a sport that you don’t have to be tall or big or run fast,” Lawrence Meyer said. “It’s a great environment.”

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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