Shotguns have been part of Kelsey Zauhar's life since she was a young teen-ager, and she shoots them almost better than anyone. It's the almost
part that bugs her.
A world-class trapshooter, Kelsey, of Lakeville, has dedicated a fairly large chunk of her 26 years to making the U.S. Olympic team. Her specialty is women's international trap.
The catch is that the U.S. sends only one woman trapshooter to the Summer Games.
Every four years.
"I started shooting when I was 13,'' Kelsey said while visiting her parents, Mark and Sharon Zauhar, over the holidays.
She was home from the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where she has lived the past four years.
Kelsey's skills with a shotgun were obvious almost from the first time she put one to her shoulder.
"I shot recreationally at first,'' she said. "It was a good way to spend time with Dad. We'd shoot on weekends or when he came home from work.''
It wasn't too long before local shoots became state shoots, which morphed to regional, then national competitions.
Good enough to win a college shooting scholarship, Kelsey headed to campus with a gun in her hand.
"It was about then that I was introduced to international trap, and I really liked it,'' she said. "After only a year of shooting it, I finished fourth in the 2008 Olympic trials.''
But a large handful of American women are really good trapshooters. To separate herself from that bunch, Kelsey figured she would have to work harder than the others, and be more dedicated.
Postponing college, her goal was to shoot her way on to the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. Her move to the Olympic Training Center would be a first step.
Thus began four years of day-in, day-out eating, drinking, sleeping -- and thinking -- shooting.
It's the thinking part that's most challenging.
"Shooting is 90 percent mental,'' she said. "Talent is only the beginning to making the Olympic team in any sport. Everyone involved has talent. You have to make it the most important thing in your life. Friends ask you to go skiing? You can't, because you might get hurt and set yourself back.
"Go home for Thanksgiving? That would be nice. But we might have a shoot in Puerto Rico or Texas or Arizona that comes first.''
In Colorado Springs, Kelsey lives in a dorm. She eats in a cafeteria, receives a monthly performance-based stipend and shoots or works out nearly every day.
Her shells and targets are paid for, and she has access to benefits afforded other Olympians and prospective Olympians, including sports psychologists.
"It is about competition and wanting to be your best,'' Kelsey said. "But more than that, you want to be part of something bigger than yourself. It's not just me out there shooting, or another woman. It's more than 100 years of the Olympic movement and everything it entails.
"You have to buy into that. You want to be part of it, and contribute to it.''
• • •
Two competitions determined who would represent women's trapshooting on the 2012 U.S. Olympic team.
One was in late fall 2011, the other in May 2012. Each featured 250 targets.
Also there was a 25-round shoot-off.
Four years of training, and 525 rounds would determine who was going to London.
"After the first 250 I was second,'' Kelsey said. "Then, when it was all done, all 525 targets, I finished third. Corey Cogdell, the woman who shot for the U.S. at the 2008 Games, won it.''
What to do?
That's what Kelsey is asking herself.
Still in training in Colorado Springs, she knows she'll be 30 the next time the Olympics roll around. She can shoot really well. But can she be the best?
However uncertain she might be of that, she's uncertain of little else.
"I'm going to finish college and then decide if 2016 is in the cards,'' she said, adding:
"People who do what I do are competitive by nature. Some mornings I wake up and say, 'What if?' But I have to accept that 2012 was a learning experience. It doesn't define me. I have no regrets.
"All I can do is work hard to make sure I don't feel this way again, to make sure whatever goal I set for myself moving forward, whether it's the 2016 Olympics or education or something else, is a goal I achieve.
"It's about turning disappointment into fuel.''