After piling up enough brass in six years to build a monument, Amanda Furrer is just 60 rounds from making the 2008 U.S. Olympic Shooting Team.
Being a hot shot landed the Mead High School junior on the U.S. National Shooting Team as a 16 year-old and launched her across the United States and around the world, including Australia, Brazil, Czech Republic, England, Germany and Korea.
This week, however, she’s aiming at the most important matches of her six-year career in the U.S. Shooting Olympic Trials for small-bore rifle in Fort Benning, Ga.
Furrer is one of five top contenders for two U.S. women’s small-bore rifle slots at the Beijing Olympics.
“All five shoot at the same world level, so it comes down to their mood at the moment,” said Mike Furrer, Amanda’s father and local coach.
The test will be three matches, firing 20 rounds in each of three positions: prone, kneeling and standing.
“At that level, there’s no margin for error on a tiny target 50 meters away,” he said.
“Matt Emmons, a friend of ours and arguably the best in the world, had an off day during the air-rifle trials in March and lost that Olympic spot to a kid who’d never placed at the national level,” he explained. “That’s how precarious it is at the trials.”
Amanda is balancing school and a teenage life with a six-day-a-week training regimen geared to competing against Chinese, German and Russian military marksmen who hone their skills as a job.
She runs, trains mentally with a sport psychologist and pounds the gym for core body strength and abs of steel.
That’s the easy part.
To understand her sport, you must see her at the range.
“I always feel bad when people come to watch me shoot,” she said Monday as she set up at Sharp Shooting. “It’s not very exciting.”
Exciting, no. Riveting, yes.
“I go into practice knowing what I’m going to work on. I try to perfect everything about each position.”
She dons a special suit from the ground up, including ankle supporting shoes, a wrist-supporting glove and chest-high leather pants that work in combination with a jacket that drapes to her thighs for support.
“I feel like the Tin Man,” she said, as she waddled in her gear to the shooting stand.
With a spotting scope on her left, she raises her space-gun-like .22-caliber rifle, one of four precision-made target-shooting instruments tricked out to the tune of more than $4,000 apiece.
“You have to have backup,” she said. “If something happens to a rifle overseas in international competition, my dad has one ready to ship to me immediately.”
She settles into a standing position, left hip thrust toward the target, left forearm to hip in a bone-to-bone posture derived from the same physics an architect uses to align weight-supporting beams in a building.
She pauses briefly as though she’s meditating.
“Actually, I’m just breathing,” she explains later. “I think about absolutely nothing. If something comes into my mind, I think about it and then finish the thought as opposed to trying to stop the thought.”
As the 12-pound rifle rests on the palm of her hand, she becomes a statue, rock-solid as though built to sustain hurricane-force winds.
“I tend to hold too long because I try to wait until the sides are aligned just perfect,” she said later. “It can actually hurt a shooter to be a perfectionist.
“I’m pretty easygoing, but before I leave for a trip I always clean my room.”
The rifle goes “smack” and her body seems to hiccup from the recoil before settling back into a follow-through as essential for shooters as it is for Tiger Woods.
The bullet punches a hole in a paper target with a black circle that’s just 1 3/8 inches in diameter. At 50 meters it looks about the size of the period at the end of this sentence.
Quarter-size groups in the middle of that circle are the rule for international competition.
She reloads with smooth movements, and as she takes aim, the rifle muzzle doesn’t budge as a nearby handgun shooter rocks the range with an unexpected blast.
“I didn’t even hear it,” Amanda said later. “It’s all about being in the zone.”
The maturity level of shooters stems from their association with firearms. They strive for high scores with instruments used to win wars.
Furrer gave up soccer after she was introduced to the calm-down sport of shooting at the age of 11, when most kids are still bouncing off walls.
“Once I was on the U.S. team, I’ve been traveling with 25-year-old shooters,” she said.
Furrer has overcome normal teenage angst with her parents to form a close working relationship, especially with her father, Mike.
“He’s always there when I need help,” she said. “He’s my No. 1 fan and he’d do anything to help me reach my dreams.”
She was 11 when her dad took her to her first out-of-town shooting competition.
“We were at the state meet in Vancouver and I was stationed next to a girl who was on the national team. I was awe-struck. On the ride back home, I told dad I wanted to quit soccer and be just like her.
“It’s led me to so many things, to scholarships and travel.”
Mike Furrer coaches Amanda and other young shooters at the Spokane Rifle Club.
“As parent,” he said, “you look at the odds in international competition and wonder, ‘Who can make this?’ But Amanda is peaking at about the right time.
“Her body has stopped growing so much but she’s still changing. We just learned a month ago that she has astigmatism. Can you believe it? She’s had her eyes checked plenty of times, but when her scores began to slump we were trying to find answers. We went back to the basics of everything. Then checked out her eyes and there it was.
“She got some very special, infinitely adjustable German optical shooting glasses, and her scores took a huge jump.”
Mike said his biggest job is to avoid affecting her emotionally. “That’s a tough deal when I’m her local coach. She loves to dance, but she’s missed things like homecoming and prom.
“On the other hand, she was on five continents last year. You can get over missing a big dance when your sport is leading to scholarships and taking you nine time zones away.”
If Amanda places in the top two at the trials this week, she’ll head directly to Milan, Italy, for international competition.
“It doesn’t escape these top ladies that they are shooting for the chance to go to the fashion capital of the world,” Mike said.
Amanda turned down a date for this weekend’s senior prom to attend the Washington State shooting championships even though a state competition is of no consequence to her shot at the Olympics.
“But our team is small and I don’t want to let them down,” she said. “Shooters are trained to look into the future. There’s always next year for the prom.”
Claim to fame: Furrer holds six national junior air rifle and rifle records. She is currently ranked third in the nation and 35th in the world in women’s three-position small-bore rifle.
In 2007, she won silver in three-position at the Junior Olympics in Colorado, gold at the U.S. Team Spring Selection in Georgia and bronze in the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro.
So far in 2008, she’s won Junior Olympics gold, plus silver in air rifle. She finished second among U.S. Team members and 16th overall in three position at the World Cup matches in China in March.