Olympian: Encourage children to succeed, support their dreams

'A life goal'

PAT CROSSLEY/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Morgan Craft and her dad, Dave, who also was one of her first shooting coaches, display a poster honoring her during the Consolidated Sportsmen of Muncy Creeks’ recent annual banquet.

HUGHESVILLE — The list of Olympic skeet shooter Morgan Craft’s accomplishments are so extensive that, in presenting her with a Distinguished Service Award from the Consolidated Sportsmen of Muncy Creeks, the group’s president, Dayl McClintock, said the award should be renamed the Distinguished Accomplishments Award.

Craft, who placed fifth in the 2016 Olympic Games at Rio de Janeiro, was the featured speaker last Saturday at the sportsmen’s annual dinner at the Hughesville Fire Hall.

“I feel fortunate to grow up in a family and community that is so dedicated to hunting and the outdoors,” Craft said upon receiving the award.

A native of Sullivan County, the 23-year-old began shooting rifles when she was 6 or 7 and continued until she was 11 or 12. Then, she switched to shooting a shotgun.

She shot American trap for a few years until she was introduced to international skeet shooting by Lester L. Greevy Jr.

“I kind of jumped in feet first,” she said. “He introduced us to some of the national coaches, and I participated in a few of the NRA (National Rifle Association) camps.

“I started making trips to regionals and a few to Georgia for some coaching and then my first national championship was in 2008,” she added.

Even though she placed dead last at her first competition, Craft said she began to invest in coaching and started setting goals.

“I’d like to pause and point out that I didn’t get where I’m at today without losing multiple shootoffs, missing finals by one single target and just having some of those worst days where I felt like shooting was never going to be my calling,” Craft said.

“And you can read all about my successes in the articles in all the scrapbooks that my grandmother put together,” she continued. “They show the shining moments and the successful days and the positive moments, but I want to point out that it wasn’t all positive and great moments. It took a lot more than that and it was behind the scenes.”

While a freshman at Lindenwood University in Missouri, where she was a member of the shooting team, Craft went to the 2012 Olympic Trials.

“That was my first big step,” she said. “I won the Olympic Trials, but unfortunately that year there was only one position for the Olympic team and that was already filled. At that point, I was named the Olympic alternate.”

After that shoot, she realized that competing in the Olympics was something she really could do.

“That’s when I set my sights on Rio de Janeiro 2016,” Craft said.

She then earned positions on a couple of World Cup teams where she was sent throughout the world for competitions.

“To be able to travel the world and represent my country was just an absolute honor and an unbelievable part of my life,” she said.

Three years after she made the decision to train for the Olympics, Craft had what she called her “breakthrough year” in 2015.

“I won the world championships,” she said, “and by winning the world championships, I set a personal best, I took the gold and I earned my spot on the Olympic team all in one day.”

In 2016, she won a gold medal at the World Cup in Cyprus and then in August she headed to Rio for the Olympics.

“What an experience that was,” Craft said. “I flew into Rio and from there I was on the set of ‘The Today Show.’ We walked in the opening ceremony and I got to meet Michael Phelps and other big names.”

What may have impressed her the most was the shared experience she had with other athletes.

“The atmosphere there was absolutely amazing,” she said. “Every single athlete in that building is there for the same exact reason. It’s like a mutual respect all across the village. We basically spent our lives getting there and have sacrificed so much to be there.

“It was two weeks straight of you … competing, practicing. You were supporting other sports, you were talking about sports. It was just sports for two weeks straight,” she said.

“It was a very awesome experience. I was very honored to be there.”

The support she received from her family on her journey to becoming an Olympic athlete was crucial. Her dad, Dave, who was one of her earliest coaches, and her mom, Cherie, who has served as a self-appointed travel agent during her daughter’s career, both traveled to Rio for the Olympic games.

“What I really would like the audience to get out of this is the fact that I didn’t do it alone,” she said. “There was no way that I would have ever been able to do this by myself.

“All the days of training, all the tears and sweat and doubting myself, just the obstacles you have to overcome as a shooter,” she continued. “Shooting is not the most physically demanding sport there is. It is very much a mentally dominated game, so just the fact that my parents, my fiance, my entire family was always there every step of the way and never gave up on me and absolutely went above and beyond …”

She admitted that one of the most touching compliments she ever received was that she was an inspiration to someone.

“I’ve heard that from several people from age 10 to 50 and above,” she said. “Just hearing that and knowing that I’ve made a difference in someone else’s life, that’s what I’m here for. If I can accomplish that little thing, that’s a life goal.”

She entreated the audience to reach out to potential young athletes coming up through the ranks.

“Sometimes that’s all a kid really needs is just that one person or that one little success to light the spark inside them, to encourage them and keep pushing them because the sky is the limit,” Craft said.

“If they’re willing to put their time and their effort into their goals, please show every child that you care and let them know that their goals and their dreams are important.”

Craft, who also took questions from the audience, was asked if she planned to train for the next Olympics in 2020. She said she currently is focused on her graduate studies at DeSales University in Lehigh County, where she is in the physician’s assistant program.

“Maybe 2024,” she added.