CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Over the weekend the world got a glimpse of Virginia Thrasher.  The 19-year old is known to most as “Ginny”, although considering how her name has exploded over the weekend it might be best to start calling her “West” Virginia Thrasher.   The gold medal she earned in the women’s 10 meter air rifle event in Rio had the entire state of West Virginia and most of the nation buzzing all weekend.   The name “Ginny Thrasher” was the top trend on Twitter for a while.

She didn’t disappoint in the obligatory follow up interviews either.  She blossomed in her post-medal ceremony with NBC’s Dan Patrick. He was charmed into near silence with her down to earth antics and humor which was bolstered by a level head, clear purpose, and well reasoned answers.   Hey, she’s clearly one of us.

Commentators on the broadcast and those who looked forward to the event considered Thrasher’s win a surprise.  One journalist speaking to her on a press conference call Sunday went so far as to compare her gold medal performance to that of a donkey winning the Kentucky Derby.

I for one was not the least bit surprised.  In fact, I actually expected it.  I have interviewed her several times since she arrived on campus in Morgantown. I have learned you underestimate Ginny Thrasher at your own peril.   She became the first freshman to sweep the NCAA rifle match earlier this year, she took four medals, including three first place awards, at the National Match at Fort Benning. She scored top 10 finishes in two world cup events this summer leading up to the Olympics.  She was also the Virginia State Champion in high school.  She’s no stranger to success and handles it with maturity and wisdom well beyond her years.   Therefore, when I saw her moving up through the pack in the qualifying round Saturday, I wasn’t surprised.  I could see it coming.   Once into the finals, yes, I would have wagered she would win–or at least score a medal.   When the she needed a 10.4 or better on her final shot to win, I had no doubt.   She hit the 10.4 exactly.

Her story is amazing and it’s wonderful for many reasons.  It’s another jewel in the crown of the West Virginia University Rifle program, a crown which already has a glittering collection of jewels with 18 NCAA Championships.  However, to fully appreciate her story, we need to go back to the beginning.

Five years ago, the eighth grade Ginny, who has two older brothers, asked her dad and granddad if she could go deer hunting.  She told me in a previous visit on Northside Automotive West Virginia Outdoors she was curious and wanted to give it a try.  So, Dad and Granddad obliged her that fall and took her hunting.  They admittedly didn’t expect her to have the stomach for it, nor the skills to be successful.  They would become the first of many to make the mistake of underestimating Ginny.  She downed the deer on her first shot and credits the experience for sparking her interest in the sport of rifle.   Soon afterward she joined her school’s rifle team and took to it like a duck to water.

But Thrasher had something special.  She had work ethic and an incredible ability to listen and learn.  When others would be done for the day, she would continue to shoot.    She relished the chance to work toward perfection. She surrounded herself with experienced shooters.  She signed to shoot at WVU where she now says she received incredible coaching.   She learned and absorbed something from everybody she has spoken to with shooting experience.  She learned to control emotions, control breathing, and to clear her mind and focus all of her energy on putting a bullet or a pellet through a tiny dot–the size of the period at the end of this sentence.

But it all started on a hunting trip.  I’ve always encouraged you on this page to take your children hunting—boys and girls. The odds your daughter will become the next Ginny Thrasher are long, but I’m sure her dad and granddad thought the same thing.  Still, they took her hunting and introduced her to something special.  Something for which we are now all grateful.

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