Ben Swanson, 16, was nervous, doubted himself even, in the nights prior to the 2012 National Rifle Association National Rifle and Pistol Championships.
But there he was, Camp Perry, an Ohio National Guard training facility on the shores of Lake Erie, and as he looked down the firing line at the competitors readying themselves for the 3-Position Any Sight Championship, those nerves and doubts somehow seemed to melt away.
As the old saying goes, our worst fears lie in anticipation.
Ben Swanson, center, was honored with an open house at the Jamestown Rifle Club on Sunday after he return from the 2012 National Rifle Association National Rifle and Pistol Championships with eight national titles. He is flanked by his parents, Faith and Mark, and at far left is coach Jen Canfield and at far right is coach Jim Schmitt. Below, Swanson is seen in front of a list of all his accomplishments.
P-J photos by Rob Tucker
No matter that to his left and right were some supremely talented shooters - Olympians and members of the Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU) were competing, for instance, so was the head coach of West Point Military Academy's shooting team.
No matter that the rain was falling and the wind was blowing - steady at 20 miles per hour with gusts near 30, his coach, Jim Schmitt, recalled.
"We got to the (firing) line and the big wind flags were straight out," Schmitt marveled. "We figured that maybe by the time he got to shoot it would be decent, but it never let up. I just thought, 'boy this is not going to be a good day for anybody.'"
Swanson, however, was ready.
So with a tune in his head (to help take his mind off the pressure) and his father, Mark, manning the scope at his side, Swanson, battling the wind and the rain, began.
When he was finished, he had accomplished a feat that just days before he had thought impossible - he won.
Besting some 600 competitors - he topped the West Point head coach by three places - Swanson was crowned the Any Sight National Champion.
"It was a really tough day and he humbled a lot of people," Swanson's other coach, Jen Canfield, said. "Normally when you get days like that the military shooters (guys from Army Marksmanship Unit) do well because that's their job. But out of nowhere there comes this 16-year-old boy and he just dominated everyone."
That victory, however, was just one of many that the soon-to-be Jamestown High School senior captured during his 10-day stay.
When Swanson returned home on Saturday, a moment his mother, Faith, could hardly wait for, he brought with him numerous plaques, medals and accolades.
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In addition to being named the 3-Position Any Sight Champion, he was - just to name a few - the National 3-Position Expert Champion and the National 3-Position Intermediate Champion. He was first overall in the Intermediate Junior Prone Iron Sight Championship and the Prone Any Sight Championship. He was the winner of the Sharpshooter Overall - and Intermediate - Prone Rifle Championship and also earned a place on the 2012 United States Dewar Team, a squad that can only be made by being a top-20 shooter at the event.
"To win a match at Camp Perry over everyone else is a really big deal," Canfield said. "Very few people can say that they've won a match at Camp Perry, especially as a junior. It's usually something that the older guys always look at doing. To be a kid makes it all the more special."
While the 3-Position Any Sight title may have just been one victory of a handful, it was, Swanson noted, the sweetest.
"That's the one I'm most proud of," he said. "There was 20-mile-per-hour winds and I mean, my goal was just to stay inside the targets. I just kept pushing through it and somehow I ended up at the top.
"Jen was almost in tears when I told her."
Not bad for a boys that has been shooting competitively for just five years.
"He's a natural shooter," Schmitt said. "He excels at it and he'll challenge himself. To do what he did was amazing because he's going up against Olympians and guys that have been doing it a lot longer than he has. It's an amazing thing to be doing at 16."
So amazing, in fact, that the AMU invited him, upon graduation, to go down to Fort Benning, Ga., and train with them for the 2016 Olympics.
For now, though, Swanson is looking forward to exploring the many options - including talks with West Point and the University of Akron about joining the shooting team - that have arisen from this breakout performance.
"(The Olympics) is definitely something I'm interested in," he said, "but there have been a lot of different pathways that have opened up now."
Either way, Canfield expects to see her pupil on the podium in the years to come.
"I knew there would come a day when he would be up on stage," she said. "It was just a matter of time. He's got the talent to succeed."