Brandy Drozd competes in women's skeet at the 51st ISSF World Championship on Sept. 15, 2014 in Granada, Spain.
|Brandy Drozd poses atop the podium at the ISSF World Championship on Sept. 15, 2014 in Granada, Spain.|
As a world champion skeet shooter and aspiring dermatologist, Brandy Drozd doesn’t let anything get under her skin.
“Her mental game is unbelievable,” said fellow shooter Dustin Perry. “Nothing bothers her. She’s just a rock. You can’t get in her way. When she’s on, she’s on.”
And Drozd was on at the recent ISSF World Championship in Granada, Spain. She hit 73 of 75 targets in the qualification rounds, shot a perfect 16 in the semifinal and then defeated Elena Allen of Great Britain 14-13 in the final.
The 20-year-old from Bryan, Texas, became only the third U.S. woman to win a world title in the 52-year history of women’s skeet, joining Kim Rhode (2010) and Terry Carlisle (1985). She also earned a quota spot for the U.S. at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
The victory marked Drozd’s first major international gold medal. Although she’d come close before, placing second in the Munich World Cup event in June and at the 2012 World Cup Final, she had never reached the top step of the podium.
Winning a world cup first, Drozd said, “would be the normal way to do it, but I didn’t do it the normal way. It just happened at the right time. I was prepared and confident and shooting great, so it all worked out.”
Drozd had experience on the same range from July, when she won the Spain Grand Prix, so she knew what to expect from the targets and the weather.
As the competition began, Drozd, who was ranked No. 3 in the world, said she wondered, “Why am I not nervous?”
But by the semifinal, she said, “I realized I was shaky, so I was able to hold it together and shoot a perfect score. I may not show it, but I can definitely feel the nerves. I’m just able to keep myself calm.”
Drozd took deep breaths and ran through her mental routine, keeping her head focused on her goal.
In the final, Drozd shot first, followed by the 42-year-old Allen. “I would miss one and she would miss one,” Drozd said. “We missed on the first station and the third station (of eight stations). We went into last four targets tied, and I cleaned them and she missed the second target on the first double.”
Nobody on the range was more excited to watch her win than two-time Olympic gold medalist Vincent Hancock.
“I’ve shot with her for several years now and I’ve seen her coming up and I knew that she was going to be something special,” Hancock said, “just the way that she goes out there and competes — it reminds me a lot of me. It’s a lot of fun to watch somebody when they’re on top of the world like that.”
Hancock said he practiced with Drozd before the spring selection match “and I think I may have beaten her once. It just goes to show how good she really is.
“Talking to her, you would never know that she is such a fiery competitor. She comes out to beat absolutely everybody, guys included. She has to up her game for Kim (Rhode), especially — all of our girls do — and that goes to show how good our skeet program is getting in the U.S.”
At worlds, No. 1-ranked Rhode, the reigning Olympic champion, was eliminated in the five-person shoot-off for the last two finalist positions following an uncharacteristic 23 out of 25.
However, Drozd, Rhode and Haley Dunn earned enough points collectively for the world team bronze medal. As a further measure of depth in the event Dania Vizzi of the U.S. won the junior skeet world title.
Rhode, now 35 and a new mother, and Drozd are friends and have roomed together at matches.
“She’s definitely someone I look up to,” Drozd said. “She’ll give me little tips here and there, mostly just things like ‘Keep calm, just act like its practice,’ little confidence boosters. We have a good friendship.”
Drozd watched online as Rhode won the gold medal in London and was familiar with that range because they competed there at a world cup in April 2012.
“It was really cool because I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve been there, I’ve shot there, I kind of know what it feels like, but it’s nothing compared to the Olympics.”
While Drozd is determined to wear a Team USA uniform at the Rio Games in two years, she is not gunning to equal Rhode’s record of five straight Olympic gold medals.
A biology major at Texas A&M, Drozd is on the pre-med track and wants to become a dermatologist. A demanding med school schedule could preclude her from training as much as she needs to stay competitive on the world stage.
“I think undergrad is going to be fine — that will get me through 2016,” Drozd said, “then after Rio, if I make or if I don’t make it, I’ll see what my future holds and I will decide from there. I could always go to medical school and come back after that.”
Her hand-eye coordination will help her perform minor surgeries, she said, “and I think my calmness will have a good effect on my business.”
Drozd began shooting after watching her brother, Tyler, who is five years older, compete for several years. She wanted to hunt with her family and followed Tyler into the local 4-H club, where as a teenager she won a grand champion title at a livestock show by baking a chocolate chip cheesecake.
“Once shooting took over I stopped cooking,” Drozd said.
She was only 7 the first time she pulled the trigger.
“I shot a 20-gauge and it kicked me,” Drozd said. “I didn’t like that and I cried.”
With coaxing from her father, she worked her way back into it by shooting American trap. “Now I hate trap, so a lot has changed since I started,” Drozd said. “It’s just not exciting enough. You stand there and walk about 20 feet across, whereas in skeet, you have eight different stations.”
She shot international skeet for the first time when she was 12. Skeet has more crossing targets than trap and also some double targets.
“You need to have the determination to practice almost every day — for a couple of hours at least, in front of a big match,” said Drozd, who will shoot 150 targets in a session, usually hitting 142.
“You’re not really aiming, it’s more pointing and looking where you want to shoot, and then just having the ability to stay calm and keep your mental game and not get distracted.”
The puff of smoke that comes after obliterating an orange clay target, she said, “is the best feeling in the world. That’s what we’re out there to do.”
Sometimes there’s no puff, just the target flying away. “That’s not as fun,” Drozd said, “but it happens to everyone, you just have to get back on track and focus harder.”
She left Granada the night after her world championships victory, arriving home at 2 a.m. to a decorated room, thanks to her roommate. There were balloons on the floor and a banner with the U.S. flag. Little medals saying “Winner” hung on the fan, the walls and the light.
Two days later, Drozd received another piece of jewelry — her Aggie ring — signifying she had become a senior in hours earned at Texas A&M.
She’s wearing the ring, but the world championship gold medal is on display at her parents’ house, where she sometimes plays the piano to relax and get away from shooting and homework.
Drozd’s next event is the Confederation of Americas Shooting (CAT) Championship in October in Guadalajara, Mexico, which concludes the international calendar.
“I’m also a Spanish minor, so going to Spain and Mexico actually helps me and I get to be the team translator, so that’s kind of fun,” Drozd said.
While she’s used to dealing with all types of weather, she doesn’t like the cold. “I’d rather sweat than be cold,” Drozd said. “Being from Texas, it’s not what I’m used to.”
Rio could be just what the doctor-to-be ordered.
Karen Rosen is an Atlanta-based sportswriter who has covered 14 Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since 2009.