We are delighted to launch the first of our series of women Olympic athletes with Petty Officer First Class Sandra Uptagrafft. A member of the Navy Reserves who hails from Alabama, Sandra competed in her first Olympics this past summer in Women’s 10 Meter Air Pistol and Women’s 25 Meter Sport Pistol.
Sandra might be one of the only Olympians to be married to another Olympian in the competitions. She is married to Eric Uptagrafft, who is a member of the National Rifle Team.
The WON: When did you start shooting, and why?
Sandra: Being a city girl, I did not grow up learning how to use firearms. My parents did not hunt or shoot recreationally. The first time I ever held a firearm was in Army Basic training. I found it challenging and quickly showed skill. When I came home and started college, a group of us wanted to join a rifle team. But the school had no team. We could not find a rifle coach, but we found a coach who was willing to teach us pistol, and even provided us equipment, so we started a team and began competing in collegiate matches. From those matches, I was recruited to the Army Marksmanship Unit. Within a year, I made the National team, and that was the start of my International Pistol career.
The WON: Did you ever think while you were a youngster that you’d be competing in the Olympics?
Sandra: No, I was always the smallest one in school and even though I was good for my size, I could not compete with the bigger kids in any of the usual sports. And I did not know shooting was an Olympic sport until I made the National Team as an adult.
The WON: You have quite a list of championships. How often do you travel on average for competitions?
Sandra: It really depends on the year and time of year. The year following the Olympic Games is very light. Maybe just National Championships and a couple of domestic matches. The years with World Championships or Olympics, we have a match just about every month through June, then again in Sep and Dec. We sometimes have to choose which ones are more important at that time because we cannot fit them all in.
The WON: Can you shed a little light on what it’s like to just be there — in the midst of the finest athletes in the world – especially the opening ceremony?
Sandra: It was surreal being in the Athlete Village, eating in the dining hall and being one of the athletes. The Olympic Games’ experience is something that lives only in dreams and we can watch it unfold on TV, but it’s not something that you can really prepare for. Having been through it, I still have a hard time describing the feeling of representing your country and competing at the highest level in your sport, rubbing shoulders with other elite athletes from all over the world. Sometimes I just could not believe I was there, but walking into the stadium during the opening ceremony confirmed and solidified in my mind that I really was an Olympian.
The WON: What happened during your competition?
Sandra: I was in a good place mentally during both my events. I was not overly nervous or excited, but just enough of an edge to keep me on my toes and still be calm and relaxed. I made a few too many technical errors, so ended up middle of the pack. I am not satisfied with my performance since I was doing so much better in training, but am happy that I did not completely botch my first Olympic Games. I learned a lot and look forward to trying it again, hopefully with a much better result, in Rio.
The WON: Let’s talk about Eric for a minute. There aren’t a lot of his and hers in the Olympics. Did you room together? It had been 16 years since Eric last competed in the Olympics, and did he coach you as to what to expect?
Sandra: No, we were not able to room together. We did not make a big deal of it. We’ve roomed separately often when traveling with the national team just because it was more cost effective or due to scheduling, so it was not an issue in London. Eric was able to give me a better idea of what to expect, but each Games is a completely different experience. So I really just had to wait and see for myself.
The WON: What’s in the near future for you and are you going to go for the gold again, in Rio?
I learned a lot in London and started to believe in myself and gained some self-confidence, so will take this next year to try some new things and cement a few old things to be even better in this next quad. I will be going for Gold in Rio.
The WON: What would you say to encourage more young women and girls to consider the shooting sports?
If you’re like me and are not tall enough (5’1″) or fast enough or strong enough to excel in most mainstream sports, you may want to give shooting a try. You can excel in this sport regardless of gender, race, body type or even financial status. It takes a lot of patience and determination (mental toughness), in addition to skill, but all these attributes will help you in life in general.
Follow Sandra Uptagrafft at USA Shooting.