Eric Uptagrafft has been using vacation days and cadging time from work to pursue his ambitions as a competitive shooter.
“But I don’t know how understanding they’re going to be when I ask them for four months off,” he said.
The University High School graduate has a gold-medal excuse: He’s made the U.S. Olympic team.
Competing in his first Olympic trials since shortly after his graduation from U-Hi in 1984, Uptagrafft earned a spot on the U.S. team by winning the men’s prone rifle at the Wolf Creek Shooting Complex near Atlanta.
Now he’s trying to earn a second berth in three-position rifle - though he admitted the excitement of making the team left him “pretty flat” for Friday’s first round.
“I don’t know if it’s really sunk in - it comes in bits and blurbs,” said the 30-year-old Uptagrafft, who lives in Lakewood, Colo., and works as an engineer for Lockheed-Martin.
“Having the trials here in Atlanta, there’s all these billboards up and it’s ‘Olympic this’ and ‘Olympic that’ and I’ll see something and think, ‘Wow, I’m going to be here for that.”’
He’s the second alumnus of the old Foresteen Junior Rifle Club of Spokane to become an Olympian. Cheney’s Launi Meili made the U.S. team in 1988 and 1992, winning a gold medal in three-position rifle the second time around.
Consider him something of a long shot.
Two former Olympians and two other former national champions were in the competition, but Uptagrafft got a jump on the field by scoring 701.8 points the first day - including 598 out of a perfect 600 in the 60 shots leading up to the 10-shot final.
He held a large enough lead after the second day that a seventh-place finish in Thursday’s third round was enough to maintain it.
“I didn’t need a perfect day by any stretch,” he said, “though I was hoping to shoot better.
“Everybody who comes here has hopes of making the team. I’d been shooting real well the last six months and extremely well in the last month, so I felt good about my chances. But it’s still kind of a crapshoot. There are just so many good shooters.”
Obviously, he’ll encounter more when the Games convene in Atlanta in July. That’s why he’s planning on an extended leave from his Lockheed job.
“There’s three World Cups we shoot between now and then, plus a bunch of Olympic team training sessions,” he said. “As it is, I’d have to take off something like 40 days to make those anyway and there’s not any time left to do any real work.”
Uptagrafft attended Texas A&M; after graduating from U-Hi, but two years later joined the U.S. Army’s marksmanship unit at Fort Benning, Ga., for four years. He returned to school at the University of West Virginia and competed there while completing his degree in aerospace engineering.