March 24, 2015
Memorial students Ben Taylor and Samantha Marsh are among the best in the country when it comes to target shooting.
Mr. Taylor, a 22-year-old earth sciences student from St. John’s, has been the national men’s air rifle champion for the past two years. Ms. Marsh, a 20-year-old international business student living in Mount Pearl, recently brought home two gold medals from the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C.
Dave Woolridge, co-ordinator of training for Memorial’s Frank Zahn Marksmanship and Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic (CSCA) Training Facility in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation (HKR), coaches the pair.
But the accomplished target shooters got involved with the sport long before they came to Memorial. Ms. Marsh has been competing for the last eight years, while Mr. Taylor has been for the last six.
They both prefer the 10-metre air rifle competition, which involves shooting a 45-millimetre diameter target at a distance of 10 metres. The goal is to get points for getting as close to the centre as possible over a set number of shots. The men’s competition allows 60 shots over one hour and 15 minutes, while the women’s competition gives participants 50 minutes to take a total of 40 shots at the target.
Competitions are stressful activities with round-by-round eliminations that can be won or lost by just a 10th of a millimetre.
“We’re talking a very small margin of error,” said Mr. Taylor. “The 10-ring (at the centre) is only half a millimetre across. So if you’re reading this article, it’s roughly the same size as the period at the end of this sentence. Tape that to a wall and walk 10 metres away and try to hit it.”
Ms. Marsh also competes in three-position shooting with a .22-smallbore rifle.
“In this competition I’m outdoors shooting at a target that’s 50 metres away,” she explained. “I shoot in three different positions: 20 shots standing, 20 shots kneeling and 20 shots in the prone position. “It’s trickier because there are a lot of different things to keep in mind, including the wind, sun and clouds. I’m still considered a novice, even though I’ve been doing it for a few years.”
Since becoming too old for the Canada Games program in 2011, Mr. Taylor has concentrated on high performance international competitions in Europe and the United States. But while in the program he was flag bearer for the Newfoundland and Labrador team in 2011 and picked up bronze medals in both the individual and team events. For the past two years he has held the national men’s champion title for air rifle.
“That’s gone a long way, not only to boost my confidence, but put me on the map as a much more established target shooter,” he said.
Ms. Marsh’s first experience in the Canada Games in 2011 saw her place 6th, but she came away with a strong desire to do better.
“It was a great experience and knowing that I could go to the games in 2015 it made me work that much harder,” she said.
The extra effort certainly paid off. At the 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George, B.C., in February, Ms. Marsh was flag bearer and won two gold medals in the individual and team events.
Participating in competitions all over the world can add up financially. Over the years, the pair has taken advantage of scholarships and financial support from the government and sporting programs, but a majority of their costs, including travel, equipment and ammunition, is paid for out of their own pockets.
“Every time you pull the trigger, you don’t get the bullet back,” said Mr. Taylor. “It’s not like soccer, where if you miss you can just run and get your ball. Some of the top ammunitions are close to $2 a shot.”
But they feel that what they’ve gotten out of the sport has been even more valuable than what they’ve put into it.
“Travelling internationally for competition makes you very independent and you are forced to mature a lot faster because you are doing it all on your own,” said Ms. Marsh. “It’s also a very individual sport. You have to take the initiative to make yourself better. You can’t rely on anyone else to carry you.”
Mr. Taylor agrees.
“In terms of immediate benefits, you can look at the list of competitions that we’ve gone to, the countries we’ve visited and the people we’ve met. I would say it’s all gone a long way in shaping who I am.”
He encourages those interested in finding out more about target shooting to visit the Newfoundland and Labrador Shooting Association Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NLShootingAssociation.