MURRAY —After graduating from Murray State with an engineering-physics degree this past spring, MacKenzie Martin has decided to put her life on hold for a year as she focuses on Olympic trials for the three-position rifle competition. The recent-graduate will also be competing for the world cup competition in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil next week. Martin will leave for Brazil on Monday, Aug. 26, and will be competing in the first half of the Olympic trials on Sept. 13.
Competing in competitions of such high caliber is not atypical for Martin.
“The year before last, I made the national team, and I competed in the Munich World Cup, the Korean World Cup, the World Championships and the Continental American Games,” Martin said.“The end of this month, I’m going to Rio for the world cup there. I went down and competed at the nationals in Fort Benning, Georgia, and that’s how I made this Rio team.
“Every year, you kind of have to get yourself back on the team. The intention was all these world cups: the national team can earn sports for the Olympics, but all the women’s spots have been earned, so that means there are going to be two spots to go to the Olympics for 2020 in Tokyo. So, I don’t necessarily have to do anything special at this world cup, but you always want to win. I’ve been training for that.”
Because of the high temperatures in Western Kentucky the past few months, Martin has been limited to what times she is able to practice.
“Now that it’s so hot out, I only shoot in the morning. I shoot three-position rifle, which is just a small bore gun that’s a .22 caliber. So it’s single shot, basically just a really nice, precise rifle, and I shoot three positions, one laying down, one kneeling, and one standing. It’s 120 shots, 40 shots in each position. I’ll do that in the morning, and then work and come back in the afternoon and shoot either a final, or I’ll work on a position that went poorly in the morning.”
Martin’s reasoning for getting involved in rifle shooting may not be what most people expect.
“My dad trained bird dogs. They’d go out into the field, and they’d hunt down birds and then scare them off,” Martin said. “He was never really much of a hunter, but he would train these dogs. I would go with him when I was little. I was a big tomb boy. At some point when I was 6, I started saying I wanted to shoot.”
Martin’s dad told her she would have to wait until she was older to shoot.
“I just pestered him for so long until I was 9,” she said. “My mom finally agreed that if I got safety training, I could go shoot.”
That Christmas, Martin’s parents got her a small shotgun. However, when Martin went to the shooting range, she soon discovered her passion — three-position shooting.
“We went to a safety class at a local range, and they had a kids’ shooting three-position competition, which is the Olympic style,” Martin said. “I saw it, and it was the coolest thing ever, so I wanted to try, and I just never stopped.”
During high school, Martin lived in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.
“On the rifle team, I was doing pretty well in high school, so I went on a lot of official visits to a lot of colleges. One of them was Murray, and the others were Nebraska, Ohio State and the University of Kentucky,” Martin said. “I just came here, and I loved it, the small-town life and how tiny the school was. It just felt different, a nice, homey feeling.”
Martin’s college career consisted of winning the OVC conference four times in a row, placing third at the NCAA her sophomore year and being a seven-time All-American for Smallbore and air rifle.
“It was a really good feeling to leave last year, knowing that we had won four times in a row and that we had mattered,” Martin said.
After college, Martin was faced with a decision: put up the rifle and make use of her engineering degree or find a way to prolong her rifling career.
She chose rifling.
“I decided to take a break. Basically, my life right now is shooting and going to these world cups and coaching the team,” Martin said.
Martin is currently a volunteer coach at MSU, a position that not only helps the team, but also offers Martin the opportunity to better herself.
“This year, I’m really excited for the team because they’ve been in such a good place every single year,” Martin said. “And now, I can help coach with some of the stuff he wouldn’t have been able to handle before. He’s only one person, so now that there’s two of us and we’ve already had such a good run at nationals every single year.
“I think this year’s going to be good too. Coaching makes you sit back and think of the basics sometimes. If someone’s having an issue, and you’re talking though it, you’re starting to think about things in a different perspective. In our sport, it’s a skill. If you start forgetting about the basics of the skill, you can mess up because you’re overthinking things. Sometimes going back to the basics and telling someone what they need to hear, you also think, ‘Wow. I should do that too.’”
Martin has set a personal goal for the competition in Rio.
“I really want to make the final,” she said. “I haven’t yet made the final at a world cup, but the goal is obviously to win.”
Martin has started to wind down her practicing in order to prepare for her competition next week.
“If you start straining yourself, sometimes you can start to overthink what you’re doing and that can go wrong too,” Martin said. “There are two girls in total that have been on the same level of World Cup shooting in my sport. My goal is obviously to go there to that match and win, but I’ll be traveling with Virginia Thrasher and Sarah Beard. Thrasher actually went to the 2016 Olympics, and she actually got a gold medal. So they’re basically my main competitors at those matches, but they’re also my (national team) teammates, so that’s fun.”
Martin’s plan is to see through her rifle career until the end of the Olympic trial, and then she will rethink her steps.
“I’m just taking it by this year. I also did just get my engineering degree, and that was not easy,” she said. “I’ve put equal effort into my school and athletics, so I have two pathways open right now. I haven’t really shut the door on that.