By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer
In the dreams that drive his waking hours, Baldwyn’s Benjamin Albers sees the steps of a process whose path leads to Olympic gold. He sees himself at the firing line, visualizing a perfect routine, following a perfect shot plan, shooting a perfect 10. It’s a scenario he knows well because he’s lived it every day for the past nine months, awake and asleep.
An avid shooter since the age of 9, Albers, now 19, has seen his skill grow with daily practice, his determination grow with success and opportunity grow with time. Beginning with the 4-H Club’s competitive .22 rifle program, he’s progressed to a pair of disciplines that take the world stage every four years.
Men’s 50-meter Pistol and Men’s 10-meter Air Pistol are both medal sports in the Olympic games, two opportunities to chase a dream shared by countless others around the world.
Today, Albers is a member of the National Junior Olympic Team, a program that encourages and helps train potential future Olympians in every Olympic sport, an honor he earned through his performance at the National Junior Olympic Shooting Competition in Colorado Springs this past July. His road there began with a desire to shoot, a drive to improve and a simple choice to give 4-H a try.
Making the best better
“We home-school and the kids needed an outlet,” said their mom, Susan Albers. Benjamin has a twin sister, Sarah, and a younger brother, Andrew, 11. “4-H has been a real blessing. It’s helped us get out in the real world and deal with other people.”
Among the other people Benjamin met was Nathan Hendrix, proprietor of the Cross Roads Sport Shooting Association near Corinth. Hendrix’s range hosts matches sanctioned by the National Rifle Association and by USA Shooting, the same governing body that oversees the development of nation’s Olympic shooters. Hendrix also hosts other events, particularly those involving youngsters.
“He was shooting in a district 4-H match at our range and I was the range officer,” Hendrix said. “Every time I host one of those matches, we invite the kids to come out and shoot some of our USA-sanctioned matches, and Ben was one of the kids who came back and shot.”
Hendrix and the CRSSA have a history of developing successful shooters. Many youngsters who’ve trained there have found success at the collegiate level.
driven to succeed
“We’ve had several kids who’ve gotten college scholarships out of this,” Hendrix said, noting past shooters who’ve gone on to represent Ole Miss and the University of Kentucky, as well as another who won an overall event at the National Junior Olympics. Still, Albers stands out.
“He’s probably one of the quickest-learning kids I’ve ever dealt with,” Hendrix said. “He’s definitely the most appreciative kid I’ve ever dealt with. If you tell him something, he takes every bit of it to heart and does exactly what you tell him. He’s ultra-coachable. I’ve never seen him when he didn’t have a positive attitude, probably the most positive attitude I’ve ever seen out of any of the kids.”
Determination and drive are qualities with which Hendrix is familiar. He got into the Olympic-shooting discipline on a challenge from one of his children in 2003 and went to his first national competition in 2006.
That personal, private quest for never-ending improvement is something that must lie at the heart of every future champion, and it’s something he sees in Albers.
“We’ve done pretty well (with our young shooters) considering we’re shooting against schools that have dedicated shooting programs,” Hendrix said. “Lots of schools have ROTC programs where they shoot three to five days per week. Our kids do well to shoot three days a week, if that. Ben comes to practice as much as he can. He lives in Baldwyn and I live in Corinth, so that’s a pretty good drive. I know he practices at home. I tell him things to work on and, when he comes back, he’s really got it worked out. If he keeps working like he is now, I don’t see why he couldn’t make an Olympic team.”
Long road home
For the young man with his finger now constantly on the trigger, the quest has become its own end. From it, he says he’s gained a discipline and a focus he hopes will serve him in life, in shooting and beyond.
Immediately ahead for Albers is college in Hillsdale, Mich., to study biology and business with thoughts toward an ultimate career in medicine.
The solution to the rigors of his future studies may already be in hand thanks to the passion that drives him now.
“There are days when you just don’t want to go on with shooting practice,” Albers said. “Instead of thinking, ‘I need to,’ it has to be, ‘I have to,’ and I just have to slug through it.”
He quotes Daryl Szarenski, America’s leading representative to the London games in Albers’ sport, a man in his 40s who told him it takes 10 to 12 years of training to become a world-class shooter.
“I’m learning to take the long-term goal,” Albers said. “It’s all going to boil down to personal desire, personal drive and personal ambition.”
The amateur ethos
For all American Olympians, especially in sports that typically lie outside the focus of the public eye, the personal accomplishment has to be enough. Many nations pay their Olympians very handsomely for winning gold, most notably China and Singapore which paid its top London performers the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and goods.
According to the London newspaper Daily Mail, “the biggest winner of this Olympics is likely to be 24-year-old marksman Abhinav Bindra, who won India’s first ever-individual Olympic gold medal in the men’s 10-meter air rifle. He has become an instant hero to a nation of 1.1 billion people and experts say his earning potential runs into ‘tens of millions.’”
The bonus program for American medalists is considerably more conservative.
The U.S. cash award of $25,000 that accompanies a gold won by our Olympians wouldn’t touch the personal and financial commitment the athletes make to their sport.
In the end, it’s about the drive to be the best, true enough, but in the countless long hours leading up to a finality achieved by only a few, it’s always about getting better.
The next step for Albers on the ever-narrowing road to the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will be to earn a spot on the Olympic Development Team, something he hopes to achieve in April at the USA Shooting National Competition at Ft. Benning, Ga.
Until then, he has his practice, he has his goal, and he has his dreams.