Last week, the League’s Arlington-Fairfax Chapter in Virginia honored Virginia “Ginny” Thrasher and Lucas Kozeniesky for their achievements as members of the U.S. Olympic team. Ginny and Lucas competed in air rifle at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio, and Ginny won the very first gold medal for the U.S. in any sport at those games.
What makes their achievements even more impressive is they didn’t get their competitive start in a state-of-the-art facility – they started in a converted tractor shed at the Arlington-Fairfax Chapter. Until last year, that tractor shed doubled as an air rifle “training facility.” League instructors would move the tractors outside and set up targets on one end of the building, and shooters would position themselves on the concrete floor at the opposite end. For many years, heating was sporadic (using portable kerosene heaters that had to be shut off when shooting began because they blew the targets and pellets) and air conditioning was nonexistent during the humid summer months. The walls were drafty and the lighting was less than ideal.
But this never seemed to matter to the young competitors who came here from across northern Virginia or the instructors who dedicated countless hours to training, mentoring, and supporting the athletes. Year after year, participation grew, more high school teams trained at the facility, and young people – who got their start in that shed – made their marks in local, regional, collegiate, and national air rifle competitions.
When talking about his experience, Lucas said that many of the competitors and volunteer leaders would joke that training in a tractor shed “built character.” And that comment really struck me because it is so telling about what is really important. It’s not the facility that matters – it’s the people. Athletes become champions through hard work, persistence, skill, and support from family, friends, and instructors. Those characteristics are also essential to success beyond the rifle range.
Ginny and Lucas embody those personal characteristics, which helped them succeed at the highest level of international shooting sports competition. The Arlington-Fairfax Chapter and its members provided the support, expertise, and commitment that are essential to helping young people like Ginny and Lucas achieve their goals – or simply have fun.
Although this particular story focuses on efforts at one chapter, the dedication of Arlington-Fairfax Chapter members is shared by League members across the country who volunteer their time and talent to mentor young people. Chapters make facilities available every day for shooting sports and much more, including conservation, environmental education, and community outreach.
This is a great story of hard work, personal achievement, and the incredible supporting role of the Arlington-Fairfax Chapter. And it’s a reflection of what is common across our organization. We all can take a measure of pride in what Ginny and Lucas accomplished – and what so many other young people have accomplished because League members were there to support them.