By Emily Houston Monroe, Women’s Outdoor News
Fun fact: At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the first 2 medals for Team USA came from the shooting sports. The very first gold medal of the 2016 Olympics went to an American in the women’s air rifle event, and on day 2, the US men’s archery team took silver. The men’s archery team were favorites, and they lived up to their reputation of excellence established by their silver medal performance at the 2012 Olympics in London. It was in Ginny Thrasher, a 19-year old at her first Olympics, who made a big splash. In her Olympic debut, Ginny beat out a well-qualified, experienced field of shooters, and she proved she is a force to be reckoned with.
Ginny Thrasher’s performance on the rifle range is nothing short of extraordinary. But she’s more than just a girl with a gun (granted, a girl who is really good with a gun). She is a stellar student and an aspiring biomedical engineer, and above all she is an excellent role model. Ginny Thrasher is just what the shooting community needs, and here’s why.
1. She is making the shooting sports nationally visible.
Her Olympic gold brought her onto the national stage last August, and Ginny is once again in the limelight as a finalist for the prestigious AAU James E. Sullivan Award. The Amateur Athletics Union held a voting-based contest to whittle down the top 7 amateur athletes of the past year, and announced Ginny among the finalists for the award, which will be presented on April 11. Past recipients of the Sullivan Award include Michael Phelps and Peyton Manning. Several other Olympic gold medalists are among the finalists this year, including 2 members of the “Final Five” Olympic gold medal winning gymnastics team.
This is a tough crowd for Ginny to beat. But, so were her competitors at the Rio Olympics, and look what she did there. The real victory is in the fact that a rifle-toting athlete was nominated and made it to the final round of voting. What does Ginny have to say about her nomination? “I am very excited about the opportunity this represents for me and for the shooting sports.” Amen, sister.
2. She has a “halo effect” – and not just because of her blonde locks.
The air rifle range where Ginny and fellow Olympian Lucas Kozeniesky learned to shoot recently upgraded its target system to accommodate the explosion of new shooters following Ginny’s 2016 Rio gold medal performance. Ginny’s father, Roger Thrasher, is the director of the facility and he calls the unprecedented growth in interest in air rifle “The Ginny Halo Effect.” In her own words, “It’s pretty cool the growth they’ve had.”
Later in April, Ginny and a teammate will hop on a plane to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships (NJOSC). The NJOSC is set up to pit the best rifle and pistol athletes of each age group, from nearly every state, against each other. Shooters as young as age 11 will be in attendance, and you can bet each young lady present will remember the match they shot against Ginny Thrasher for the rest of their lives. Ginny’s already inspiring the next generation of shooters. On her plans for the NJOSC, Ginny noted, “It’s important to me how I compete, but also how I come across when I’m competing. This is an opportunity for me to work on balancing being a role model and a competitor.”
Ginny’s rifle accomplishments are unprecedented. She’s the youngest rifle shooter to win an Olympic medal in US history. She’s the youngest NCAA Rifle athlete to win both the air rifle and smallbore rifle titles in the same year. She won basically every match she could enter in 2016, and in 2017 she placed second at the NCAA air rifle championships. Her West Virginia University Rifle team won the whole shebang for the 5th consecutive time last month, thanks in large part to Ginny’s finals-worthy performances in with both guns. She is darn good, and she is just getting started.
4. She can win an Olympic medal, solve partial differential equations, and shop for groceries.
Ginny Thrasher can do it all, and she isn’t letting up. While one might expect a celebratory trip to Disney out of an Olympic champion, after her gold medal performance Ginny went straight back to school to start her sophomore year as a biomedical engineering major. While solving partial differential equations and learning mammalian physiology might sound daunting, it’s all in a day’s work for Ginny. She says her mental training helps her balance life off the rifle range. “I journal every day to make sure I’m living intentionally. I try to be the best I can be as a person in every aspect of life, from shooting to academics to relationships.”
Beyond the classroom, this Olympic gold medalist remains grounded. The week she returned from the Olympics and started classes, Ginny did what any hungry college student would do – she shopped for groceries. Ginny recalled a particular pit stop after recovering from a bout of post-Olympic food poisoning. “While I was in the store, I was stopped probably 15 times within 30 minutes by people who were so excited about the Olympics.” Ginny’s ability, on- and off-the-range, combined with her humility and approachability, make her an excellent representative for the shooting sports.
5. She is a team player.
Ginny credits her West Virginia University Rifle teammates and the Morgantown, West Virginia, community with supporting her growth and achievements. “The best part about shooting in college is it takes an individual sport and makes it a team sport. As a team, we do a great job of raising our standards and pushing together to be better, and the Morgantown community is so supportive of the rifle team and of me particularly. After the Olympics, the reaction from the community was so cool and so humbling.” In a sport that is typically individual, Ginny is thriving in the NCAA’s team environment. West Virginia University is the winningest team in the NCAA. Ginny is the 4th West Virginia shooter to win an Olympic medal, and she’s proud to continue that tradition of excellence.
If I put together a Venn Diagram of “engineers who are good at public speaking,” “Olympians who are good at public speaking” and “20-year olds who are good at public speaking,” there would be almost no overlap. Ginny sits at that intersection point and does a great job of it. Watch or listen to any interview she does, and you’ll see why she’s such a great representative for our collective sports. ““I never started shooting with the goal of having an impact on other people, but it is such an amazing opportunity that I take very seriously.” Ginny Thrasher has already achieved so much, and she is just getting started.
Through her athletic achievements, Ginny Thrasher is bringing the shooting sports to national prominence. She’s also inspiring the next generation of shooters, while continuing to compete at an elite level. Ginny Thrasher is just what the shooting sports need to grow and reach new heights of achievement and outreach.