By Irwin Greenstein, Shotgun Life
Editor’s note: This interview was done just before Kim shot for Gold in London’s Olympics. Kim has won a medal in five Olympic games and with that established a United States record as the only person to medal in five games.
Wouldn’t it be great if four-time Olympic shooting champ Kim Rhode finally appeared on a box of Wheaties?
As legend has it, if it had been up to Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, Kim would’ve been beaming her warm smile on the Breakfast of Champions back in 1996, when at age 16, as the youngest member of the U.S. Summer Olympic Team, she won her first Gold Medal for double trap.
Even though Wheaties fame has eluded Kim, her star power has risen dramatically over the years – her ascendency casting a halo effect on other people in the shotgun sports.
Thanks in part to Kim’s high regard both on and off the field, women participating in the shotgun sports have also gained respect in shooting clubs and competitions around the world. But from Kim’s perspective, we have a long way to go to get more women involved in the shooting sports.
And she’s doing something about it…
In an interview with Shotgun Life, Kim talked about her involvement in causes close to her heart that would throw open the doors of the shotgun sports even wider to women and minorities. She also discussed her commitment to protect the very same local shooting clubs against gentrification and development as where she trained for her first Olympics. She also put her support firmly behind programs to get kids more engaged in our community of shooters.
And for the rest of us just looking to run 100 straight, Kim reveals the same training regimen that catapulted her to the top of the Olympic pantheon.
Even though Kim is now 30, her knowledge of competitive and recreational shotgunning easily stacks up against people two or three times her age.
Born in Whittier, California, at the age of 10 Kim had enrolled in the NRA’s Junior Shooting Program. She rapidly advanced through the ranks with her .22 rifle to achieve the designation of Pro-marksman. During those years Kim also began traveling on African safaris with her family, honing her shooting skills with help from her family.
Still, it was close to home, through this NRA local shooting program, that she discovered skeet. At first she signed up for club shoots, moving her way up to regional shoots and eventually to the California State Shoot. Every step of the way, Kim received enormous support from her family, local club owners (one of them actually building a practice field for her), Winchester Ammunition and Perazzi.
The financial and technical backing of Winchester and Perazzi helped Kim find fast low-recoil shells specifically designed for her as well as a custom-fit shotgun. It would prove to be a winning combination.
By 13, she won her first world championship title in women’s American Skeet. She went to win International World Cups in double trap. Then came the gold medal at the 1996 Summer Games, designating her as the youngest female gold medalist in Olympics history. She later won a bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and a silver medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
All the while, the unassuming Arroyo High School student maintained excellent grades by lugging school books and focusing on her studies while traveling to competitions around the world. Arroyo High School in El Monte recognized her accomplishments with a four-year letterman’s jacket for shooting. Kim’s astonishing determination could easily blindside a stranger who would dismiss the 5-feet-4 athlete seemingly barely tall enough to shoot her 8-pound, 9-ounce Perazzi MX12. But anyone who underestimates Kim would be in for a big surprise.
By the age of 30, she has held nearly every prize and honor offered in competitive trap and skeet. In 1995 she earned the Distinguished Shooter Medal from the U.S. Army at the World Championships in Cyprus. She has been named 2002, 2003 and 2004 USA Shooting Female Shooter of the Year, and Female Shotgun Shooter of the Year. In addition, Kim garnered the U.S. Olympic Committee’s Shooter of the Year and Chevy Trucks’ Shooter of the Year awards.
Kim has also received widespread coverage by the media. It started in 1996, prior to the Olympics, with her appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. After she won the gold he sent her a dozen roses to mark the occasion. That was followed by being named one of the Top 10 Sports Phenoms of 1996 by Time Magazine. Subsequently, Kim has been covered in USA Today, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.
She served as a spokesperson for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s campaigns in support of outdoors safety and conservation messages. She also makes frequent appearances for national organizations in the outdoors industries to help raise money for charities.
Then of course there’s her gig as co-host of the Outdoor Channel’s TV program Step Outside.
The enormous success she enjoys today came from her early and total domination of double trap. And yet that almost got derailed in the gender politics of the International Olympics Committee.
Double trap was created by the International Olympic Committee in 1996 as a sport strictly for women. In fact, it was the only shotgun shooting sport for women at the time because the International Olympic Committee had eliminated women’s single trap and skeet.
In talking about the controversy with Kim, her take on it was that it was a way for the International Olympic Committee to separate men and women in competition. A look back at the sequence of events certainly supports Kim’s theory.
At the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, a woman from China named Zhang Shan won the gold in skeet. She became the first woman to earn the Olympic gold in mixed competition. In response, the International Olympic Committee eliminated women from the competition and instituted a “men only” rule for the shotgun competitions.
When Kim made her debut in 1996, “Our scores were made so that women shot 120 targets and men would shoot 150,” she explained. “That meant our scores could never be compared with the men’s, which is kind of an interesting thing. In the following years, they [International Olympic Committee] opened skeet and trap to women again, but with women shooting fewer targets than men. In 2004, they eliminated double trap saying there weren’t enough women competing in it even though we had more than 15 women and normally they only allow 15 women to compete, but they eliminated it and left it in for men.”
The women, being Olympic competitors, fought the ruling. “We signed a petition to get skeet and trap back. When they brought them back for the 2000 games, though, women shot 75 targets and men shot 125. The International Olympic Committee said once again that they didn’t have enough competitors this time in double trap. But we had full teams of double trap shooters.”
After double trap was cut from the Olympics, she turned to skeet. At the 2007 World Cup competitions in Santo Domingo, she set a new final world record in this event with a score of 98 out of 100. In the following year, Kim went on to win the silver medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in women’s skeet.
All the while, Kim has been active in front of the camera and behind the scenes in getting more people involved in the shotgun sports as a means for them to build confidence, self-esteem and respect for firearms.
Now her three-pronged mission is to introduce more women, minorities and children to the shotgun sports.
“We need more women, inner city women, and more youth involved in our sports,” she told us. “We definitely want to see our sport grow and for it to continue to grow we need to reach outside the box.”
Kim fully appreciates that “the first [shotgun sports] experience for women is that they’re nervous, they don’t know what to expect. There’s a lot of negative news from the media about guns in general. And it can be particularly tough for women who don’t have a family member involved in the shotgun sports, because they don’t have anyone there to teach them. But once they go out to a club, they say that the people were so nice and helpful. A whole new door opens, and they get really excited.”
Her advice to women thinking about getting into the shotgun sports is “go out there and enjoy it, don’t be afraid to try something new and give it a whirl. Don’t think of yourself as any different from a guy. Strength doesn’t matter. Go out with the attitude that you can beat the guys. Have fun with it. Take all the advice you can get. Wear the pink vest, do the hair, and the cute bags. You can either be the girlie girl or the tomboy. It doesn’t matter. Enjoy it for what it is.”
She urges women to join all the organizations such as DIVA Women Outdoors Worldwide, the National Sporting Clays Association, National Skeet Shooting Association, the Safari Club, Ducks Unlimited, the National Shooting Sports Foundation – any number of them in order to take advantage of the great learning and community resources provided by them.
She shares the same gung-ho attitude when it comes to getting kids involved in the shotgun sports. She’s a huge proponent of the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP).
It’s managed by the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, which is an educational-athletic organization that exists to introduce school-age youths to the clay target sports and to facilitate their continued involvement.
“It’s a great program,” Kim said of the SCTP. “Shooting teaches a lot of life lessons like responsibility and teamwork.”
Kim’s work with kids doesn’t end there. She supports the Kids & Clays Foundation, which hosts sporting clays tournaments to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House – a charitable organization that meets the needs of families who have no place to stay while their children are hospitalized.
All the while, Kim continues her tireless efforts to save local gun clubs from the wrecking ball – especially the one where she learned to shoot in Southern California.
As Kim explains it “The City Council was trying to rezone the location because the mayor and several Azusa City Council members were not pro-gun. Since there is a California range protection law, they could not close the range because of noise. Instead, they rezoned the property to open land. It’s just totally anti-gun. And we did everything in our power to save our range because it’s been there for 58 years and it’s an icon. The range had hundreds of people show up at City Council meetings. The opposing side had more than a handful of anti-range people, but when the Azusa City Council voted, they voted to close the range. The range had a children’s program where kids could shoot for free once a month. They had all the guns and coaches there to help. Seventy thousand people would shoot there every year. It’s really sad to see what the City Council of Azusa did.”
Recalling those early days at clubs like that one, she said “I found the shooting sports to be very family orientated. My dad was teaching me, strangers were helping me. It was all with the best intentions of helping me become a better shooter.”
Today, Kim attends the California State University at Pomona where she studies veterinary medicine as part of her demanding schedule. Any free time she has is spent restoring classic vehicles and working on her Craftsman home. Her collection of 10 cars and trucks includes a classic red A.C. Cobra that she built with her father from a kit. Plus she recently married Mike Harryman.
She found herself back in the headlines when the Perazzi that she used to win four Olympic medals had been stolen from her pickup truck. Maybe it was good karma, good police work, or both but the gun had been found in January 2009 and returned to her.
It was the same Perazzi she had been shooting for the past 18 years with 29-inch barrels and screw-in chokes – and Kim puts that gun through its paces every day to maintain her skills.
“I shoot 800-1,000 rounds a day,” she told us. “I drill stations instead of shooting full rounds of skeet.”
She recommends staying at one station and shooting it until you’re comfortable you can hit the clay every time.
“From station 1 in skeet, you shoot 25 high, 25 low and 25 doubles,” she advised. “If you miss one, you start all over again at that station. You get to that 25th one and you say to yourself ‘don’t miss, I don’t want to start all over again.’ You do that for all stations. Drilling stations helps. That’s building muscle memory so shooting is as natural as walking down the street and you don’t have to think about it. You start to see that picture and what it’s supposed to look like. Shooting rounds is a waste of time. By the time you get all around every station and get started again you forget what you did.”
And her secret weapon for training?
“Video games,” she revealed. “They’re incredible for hand-eye coordination.”
While video games help with her training, she has another form of entertainment when she’s on the line competing.
“When I’m standing on the line I’m singing a song in my head,” she said. “I’m not thinking ‘oh my gosh this is my last bird, or oh my gosh someone is ahead of me. I can’t miss or I’ll be behind.’ Instead, I’m singing some song and it helps me with the pressure.”
In wrapping up our phone interview with Kim we asked “What’s the best advice you can give to a young person who wants to become a shooting star?”
We should’ve known her response: “Never give up.”
Irwin Greenstein is Publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.