WATERFORD, Wis. — When Maddy Bernau first shot a gun at age 9, she didn't like it at all. She didn't like the kick or the feeling, and she had a strange way of holding the gun that meant it recoiled into her face, resulting in some nasty bruises.
"I had a welt on my face for the first year I shot," she told The Journal Times .
Eleven years later, Bernau, now 20, is an international trapshooting competitor with her sights set on the 2020 or 2024 Olympics.
This year has been jampacked with competitions. Bernau, of the town of Waterford, has shot in four tournaments already this year and has three more on her schedule before the biggest of them all: the International Shooting Sport Federation World Championships in Changwon, South Korea, scheduled for Aug. 31-Sept. 15.
In May, Bernau won the gold medal in women's trapshooting at the International Junior Grand Prix in Porpetto, Italy. She represents USA Shooting's national trapshooting team in competitions.
Bernau first started trapshooting with 4-H when she was 11. Since then, it has become a family affair: Her younger sister, Meredith Bernau, 19, also competes and hopes to one day get to the Olympics, too.
"She's kind of followed me the whole way," Maddy Bernau said. "I was more the guinea pig with everything."
Because the two are just more than a year in age apart, they often travel, shoot and compete together. Often, they have comparable performances, which has led to a friendly sibling rivalry.
"When we first started, it was just a sisters kind of thing . now we hate shooting with each other," Maddy Bernau said with a laugh. "We like to be separate."
"The competition has always been there," Meredith Bernau chimed in.
Even so, Maddy Bernau said the two are best friends and have an overall great experience together.
The youngest Bernau sister, Miranda Bernau, 11, started shooting this year.
The girls' father, Chris Bernau, introduced them to competitive shooting, although he didn't compete growing up.
"He wishes he would have had this when he was in high school," Meredith Bernaus aid. "All he did was hunt and maybe go to a gun club once or twice with his grandpa."
Maddy Bernau said her skills have come a long way, especially in the past three years. She credited much of that to her coach at her school, Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, who constantly pushed her to improve her mental game and challenged her to set attainable goals.
"He would push me to the point where I would want to leave practice and I wouldn't want to come back. I think it made me stronger as a person. It made me handle competition extremely well," Maddy Bernau said. "I have to say it was all mental."
That coach took another job, so Maddy Bernau will be transferring schools for her upcoming junior year. She said she is currently considering offers from Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee, and Concordia University in Seward, Nebraska, the school where her coach from Simpson went.
After obtaining her undergraduate degree, Maddy Bernau said she wants to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison and work toward a doctorate. She said she eventually wants to become a large animal veterinarian because of her love for the outdoors.
Through all of that work, though, she plans to keep on shooting competitively for a while, hoping to eventually master the sport.
"Looking back, I never thought I would be as far as I am," Maddy Bernau said. "I never thought it would be my life."
An AP Member Exchange shared by The Journal Times.