Women of Calibre: Natalie Smith

Nat Smith1

Which discipline/s do you shoot (recreationally and professionally)?

I shoot the women’s air rifle standing (R2), the mixed air rifle prone (R3), the 0.22 50m mixed prone (R6), and the women’s 0.22 50m three position sport rifle (R8), in competition and I shoot 50m bench rest also recreationally.

How long have you been shooting, and how did you get into it?

I started shooting in 2010. After my accident I needed to find a new sport to do and the organisation that I was doing rehab in, in Queensland, (Sporting Wheelies) ran “come and try” days of various sports that are available to people with disabilities. I attended one of these days for shooting as my grandfather had been a really good shooter and I wondered what he saw in it. My grandfather had been dead for many years and I was too young to enquire about shooting before he passed. It turned out that I was pretty good at it, even though I thought that I had missed heaps by not hitting the bullseye, but they were amazed by how many times I even hit the target. I then went and joined a club and just kept going from there.

You worked as a theatre nurse for 8 years in the past – that would have been a very demanding and stressful job! Do you feel that being able to work under pressure like that helped you in your journey to become a Paralympic Shooter?

I have always worked my best under pressure. That is one of the reasons that I was a peri operative nurse in the first place. I loved working in the emergency theatre and putting myself under pressure to anticipate what a surgeon would need in such high stress environments. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist, so the rush from hitting a perfect 10.9 is very addictive, and trying to better myself and shoot perfectly every time keeps me going. When I have a perfect round then I’ll be able to stop. Lol I think I’ll get to old before that ever happens.

Nat Smith

You won your first gold medal only a short time after taking up the sport – that is quite exceptional! Can you give us some insight into how you achieved success in such a short period of time?

I think that people’s attitude was what helped me achieve success and I’m just that type of person. If I do something I have a personal drive to either be the best at something or be the best that I can possibly be. I was brought up competing in horse riding and my Dad used to say to me “Don’t worry, you’ll get them next time”, if I came in second. It was always thought that first place was where you always should be. It wasn’t that second was bad or not good enough, it was that I was capable of first so that is where I should be. And people talked down to me when I first started shooting, like one day (in about ten years) I might get a chance to go to a Paralympics. These people didn’t know me and the drive and dedication that I am have or what I was capable of. Just like horse riding, number one is where I like to be.

You achieved a podium finish in the London Games, winning a bronze in 10 air rifle – what an incredible effort! With that experience under your belt, is there anything you will do differently in the lead-up to this year’s games?

This games I have taken on two new events so this time I am twice as busy. I’ve been training six days a week, for about six hours a day and I’m also lucky enough to use the gym at the Queensland Academy of Sport (QAS). The QAS have been very supportive and very active in my campaign to Rio. I’ve incorporated gym work into my preparation this time around that I didn’t do before, and have used a lot of other services such as nutritionist and sports psychology, giving me a broader approach to my training. I’ve also chosen to enjoy this time a lot more. So although I’m training six days a week I’m also taking time to enjoy the Paralympic experience too. Last time I was worried about building the Paralympics into something too big that I would put too much pressure on myself to win so I was conscious of not thinking about the games too much. This time I’m looking forward to the games and being able to enjoy myself and just shoot as best as I can without putting any extra stress or pressure on myself. The experience can be overwhelming if you let it so my training is much more structured and I guess I’m going in with my eyes wide open this time.

Tell us more about the Sporting Wheelies Association – I believe they offered you an introductory grant to help you get started in shooting.

The Sporting Wheelies and Disabled Association is an amazing organisation. They offer come and try days of a huge number of sports that are available to people with disabilities regardless of what disability you have. They always have helpers available so that you get the best experience at these days and they are very inclusive of everyone. Most of these days are either free or the smallest charge to cover the sausage sizzle at the end of the day. They offer financial assistance to members to national and interstates events as well as links to other organisations that offer grants for things such as sporting equipment. If anyone with any disability wants to get into sport then definitely give them a call.

Nat Smith4

How do you find juggling your shooting career and being a mum with a young toddler?

My husband and son are very supportive of me and my shooting. My son has grown up at ranges all over the world and has friends from lots of countries. Whenever we get to Europe for example, the first thing everyone asks about is my son. He usually wanders around to people who don’t speak English and puts his hands up for a cuddle or finds someone in a wheelchair and climbs up on their lap to say hello. He has travelled the world and he is only two. It has cost me a fortune but the experiences that he has had are irreplaceable. He is such a social butterfly and loves all the attention. I think we have just had to adapt to fit in everything for the family. If it means that I go out to train at 9pm after his bath, then that is what I have to do.

What advice would you give to someone who has a physical disability who is interested in taking up shooting?

If anyone was interested in shooting then a come and try, which are run by Sorting Wheelies twice a year or my club Paramount offers them every Friday out at the Belmont range in Brisbane. Everyone is welcome and almost anyone can shoot with some adaptive equipment. It is a sport that is moderately challenging physically but exceptionally challenging mentally. It is quite addictive and it is strange just how much fun it is to hit the bullseye for the first time and how it makes you want to do again and again.

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