April 27, 2014 Updated: April 28, 2014 at 12:14 pm
Hours and hours on her home range hanging out with friends paid off for Abby Votava.
The 17-year-old won her first National Junior Olympic Shooting Championship gold medal in women's air rifle last week and catapulted into contention for international competition and perhaps a college scholarship.
The meet was held on her club's home range at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center so there was a comfort level for Votava, who was competing in her fifth Junior Olympics since she began shooting at age 12.
"I think being on my home range was a help," the Palmer High School junior said. "I was there the night before just shooting in my sweats and hanging out with my friends. So when competition started the next morning (Saturday) I was thinking it was 7 o'clock the night before. I ended up in fourth. I acted the same way the next day and ended up in first. It's pretty crazy."
Club assistant coach Michael Anti was not as surprised by her success after watching her steady progress over the past five years.
"She works really hard," Anti said. "Her progress has been steady but in the past, her competition scores were not as high as her practices. But she contained her excitement and exceeded those that weekend. It was great to see."
Votava is a dedicated shooter who also competes in cross country and girls' swimming for Palmer. When not participating in high school sports, she takes part in the Civil Air Patrol. She also practices shooting twice a week at the OTC, takes part in a Saturday shoot with coach Jim Shaver, and does weight training the other days.
"Not everyone thinks working out is that important for shooting but it is important to have a strong lower core and back since there is some awkward bending in shooting," she said.
That dedication was quite different from the 12-year-old Votava, who wasn't sure she liked the sport that much when the range had the old-style paper targets. The facility underwent a recent upgrade to electronic scoring.
"A friend introduced me to it but I wasn't sure if I just liked it because I happened to be good at it right away or if it was something I really wanted to do," she said. "The paper targets were a pain. Now it's my life."
That life now includes a chance at international competitions and a college scholarship. There are 30 NCAA rifle programs, including Air Force where Anti serves as a Falcons assistant.
"It definitely put her on the map," he said. "There were 10 or 12 coaches at that competition so I expect they will be calling."
College coaches cannot contact Votava until her senior year so the new junior national team member remains focused on the world championship qualifier at Fort Benning, Georgia, in June.
"That is for sure," she said.