The National Shooting Sports Experience

Ricky Wagner talks about his trip to Nationals in 2017.

While preparing to compete at the 4-H National Shooting Sports Championships as a compound archer, I don’t believe I ever truly grasped how much the events leading up to the contest were shaping me as a person. The reality of qualifying to compete at the national level never truly set in until fundraisers were being organized, practice commenced and travel plans and reservations were being aligned. Throughout the duration of this essay, I will elaborate on a few highlights of my journey to compete at the 4-H National Shooting Sports Championships, as well as the some of the personal growth I experienced along the way.

At the beginning of my journey to nationals as a freshman in college, I knew trying to juggle everything in life could potentially prove to be extremely difficult. However, all things considered I was ready to give it all I had. Holding the first fundraiser in October, I came to the realization of how difficult the trip I had set out on was going to be. Trying to plan all the logistics of a fundraiser while juggling college not only kept me on my toes, but also required personal discipline in order to ensure all tasks at hand were being completed.

As time progressed, it seemed the countdown clock was ticking louder and faster, reminding me of the work that needed to be done. In response, I began to practice often, constantly working to improve little things in the craft I love that needed attention. As time progressed and the spring semester was coming to a close, I found it somewhat difficult to find time to practice and prepare my equipment. However once finals had come to an end, and the internship I acquired for the summer began, life seemed to slow down; allowing me to prepare myself for the fast approaching competition.

Throughout the peak of preparation, I often found myself shooting four days a week, and traveling to a different local shooting event every weekend. While participating at these local events, not only was I able hone my shooting skills, but I was also able to improve on my mental game as well. This mostly entailed learning how to block out the surroundings and focusing on each shot, while forgetting all the previous shots whether good or bad in order to perform at my full potential.

Once the competition had arrived, it felt as if it all was surreal, the reality of being in Nebraska, competing at the national level, and the sacrifices I made along the way to shoot my best. Prior to this week, I had never met any of my teammates. The only information I knew about them was their names and what county they were representing. However much to all of our relief, it was as if we had met and shot together before. The day prior to our first official practice day, we traveled to a range near the contest to practice and get to know each other, in order to relax and calm our nerves before scoring commenced.

Many have asked how I enjoyed my trip, and in order to summarize the experience in a short sentence I simply describe the experience as “practice with the pros.” On the first official day of practice, I wandered around in awe of all the 4-H members, their equipment, morale, impeccable shooting ability; and quite frankly at this time, I questioned how I even qualified to compete with the best archers in the nation.

While reflecting on the events leading up to the 4-H National Shooting Sports Championships, I don’t believe I could have ever fathomed how rewarding the entire experience would be to me. Stripping away the ribbons, medals and personal goals I was able to achieve, this 4-H experience has been the most memorable and rewarding I have ever experienced. Of all the rewarding aspects of this journey, the personal discipline, organizational skills and the time management I learned have shaped me into not only a better archer, but also provided a different view of what 4-H has done for me over the years. Being able to experience the 4-H compound archery program and all it has to offer first hand has motivated me to mentor my fellow club members in the sport of archery, and hopefully send many more to this contest and experience all it has to offer.