- Associated Press - Saturday, February 17, 2018

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) - For Makayla Scott, it was love at first squeeze - of a trigger, that is.

Three years ago, shortly after her brother began shooting in a 4-H shotgun-sports program, she decided to give it a try, too.

“I knew after the first shot that it was the sport for me,” said the 14-year-old.

Many tens of thousands of shots later, she’s still enthusiastic. No, make that obsessed. And driven.

“I have a goal,” she said. “I want to shoot in the Olympics.”

The coach who helped get her started in the shotgun sports, Mike Adkins, thinks she might just get there.

“This year, she’s getting started at bunker trap, which is what she would be shooting in Junior Olympic and Olympic competition,” said Adkins, one of the Greenbrier County 4-H program’s coaches. “There’s no doubt in my mind she’ll qualify for the Junior Olympics this year. She’s that good.”

To qualify, Makayla will have to break at least 75 of 125 targets in sanctioned National Shooting Sports Association competition. Adkins said she routinely breaks at least 23 targets in a 25-target round of American trap, which would equate to 115 in a 125-target round of bunker trap.

Makayla believes she can do it, but she knows she’s going to have to adjust to a different discipline.

“In American trap, the targets come from one place, a ‘house’ that’s right in front of you,” she explained. “In bunker trap, they appear to come right out of the ground from several locations and at different heights. They’re faster than American trap targets, too.”

To help her make the transition, Makayla’s parents have enlisted the help of Stephanie Gutierrez, a two-time Junior Olympics bronze medalist. Twice every month, Makayla and her dad will travel to Tennessee for coaching sessions with Gutierrez.

Gutierrez has called Makayla “an amazing natural talent” who “can make the Olympic team and become a champion.”

When Makayla isn’t traveling for coaching or competitions, she spends hours upon hours training at the Powder Ridge Sporting Clays facility in Caldwell, a half hour’s drive from her family’s farm near Alvon in rural Greenbrier County. She shoots 100 to 125 targets a day, four to five times a week. That’s roughly 25,000 targets a year in addition to the 6,000 she shoots in competition.

“I usually practice until someone tells me to stop,” she said.

Her mother, Melissa, said Makayla’s slavish dedication to her sport “has been overwhelming, in a good way.”

“She works so hard,” Melissa continued. “This is her passion. She doesn’t care about eating or sleeping. She doesn’t go out with friends, and she doesn’t play on an iPad all the time. She just wants to shoot. If it’s 30 degrees outside, she’ll shoot. If it’s pouring rain, she wants to go shoot.”

Makayla’s dedication comes with a price. In 2016, the recoil from thousands upon thousands of shots bruised her shooting shoulder so badly and so deeply that she was forced to step away from the sport for several months.

Melissa and coach Adkins are delighted with Makayla’s success as a shooter, but they’re even more delighted with the way shooting has changed her personality.

“We adopted Makayla when she was 7 years old,” Melissa said. “She had been in foster care for a year or two, and she was very, very shy. She had no self-confidence at all. This sport has really helped her to open up to others. Her self-confidence has improved tremendously.”

“The first time I met her, she was 12,” Adkins recalled. “She was so bashful she couldn’t even look me in the eye. I could hardly get her name out of her. I thought, ‘Oh my, how am I going to teach this kid?’ Well, after she pulled the trigger that first time, she came right out of her shell.”

Makayla credits the transformation to the many people who have supported her since she dove headlong into shotgun shooting.

“In most sports, you get a little bit of support from others,” she said. “In the shooting sports, it seems like everyone is trying to help you in some way. The coaches give their all to help you succeed. Then, in competition, whenever you win, you win fair and square, and the trophies and medals add to your confidence even more.”

To reach her ultimate goal, the Olympic Games, she’s going to need even more support.

“Money is a concern,” she said. “For us, it’s a lot of money just to go to practices in Tennessee, and then there are range fees, coaching fees, shell fees, gas, food. It’s a lot. I’m looking to secure sponsors. I’d like to attract gun and ammunition manufacturers, but I’m open to local sponsors as well.”

In the meantime, Makayla’s mom has opened a GoFundMe page, “Makayla’s Olympic Dream,” with a goal of $10,000. “This is her passion and this is her dream, and as parents we’ll do whatever we need to do to make it come true,” Melissa said.

The rest is up to Makayla. She knows the road to the Olympics will have twists and turns, ups and downs. But she also knows she’s doing the thing she loves best - the thing she fell in love with when she squeezed that trigger for the very first time.


Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.

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