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Kim Rhode Is Shooting For Historic Sixth Olympic Medal On Fifth Continent

By Karen Rosen | March 21, 2016, 6:44 p.m. (ET)

Kim Rhode is always in the hunt to add to her collections.

She’s lost count of how many first edition children’s books she has, but figures it’s in the neighborhood of 5,000-6,000, with her favorite being “The Wizard of Oz.”

Rhode has rounded up 18 classic cars, her latest a 1929 Model A pickup truck.

But Rhode’s most impressive collection fits in a small bag.

It’s one that money can’t buy. Rhode had to earn every piece of it.

Kim Rhode poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit on March 8, 2016 in Los Angeles. 

She is the proud owner of five Olympic shooting medals won in five straight Games from 1996 to 2012. Rhode is the only American to go 5-for-5 in an individual sport, winning her first three medals in double trap (gold in Atlanta, bronze in Sydney, gold in Athens) and her last two in skeet (silver in Beijing, gold in London).

Now she’s gunning for her sixth straight Olympic Games in Rio this August and her sixth straight medal, which would tie Italian luger Armin Zoeggeler (1994-2014).

“I didn’t think that there would be six,” said Rhode, of El Monte, California. “It’s just something that kind of happens. After the first one, time flies. It just seems like yesterday I was in London. I think every Olympian will tell you it’s just incredible how fast it goes.”

Rhode, who will compete Tuesday in the ISSF Shotgun World Cup in Nicosia, Cypress, has a five-target lead in women’s skeet going into the second and final phase of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in May. Her advantage is more than all the other disciplines combined (four shots). World champion Morgan Craft has already qualified for the Olympic Games and Rhode is aiming for the second spot in women’s skeet.

Whether she makes it to Rio or not, this is by no means her last Rhode-o.

“Shooting is one of those sports where we have that longevity,” Rhode said. “The oldest medalist in (Olympic) history was a shooter, Oscar Swahn, from Sweden. He was 72 (in 1920 when he took silver in double shot running deer). So I have a few more in me at 36. I’m only halfway.

“I don’t know if I’m going for that record,” she added with a laugh, “but we’ll wait and see.”

Rhode will also wait and see if she qualifies for Team USA before making her famous Olympic pins, which have become collectibles in their own right. The 2012 edition was a “blinkie,” while Rhode has her sights set on a “spinner” for Rio.

Her whole world has spun around since London, with Rhode experiencing the joy of becoming a mother and the challenge of serious health setbacks. Unbeknownst to Rhode at the time, she was pregnant while competing at the 2012 Games, where she set the Olympic record and tied the world record by hitting 99 of 100 targets. She also placed ninth in trap to become the first Olympian to compete in all three shotgun disciplines.

“Surprise! I found out several weeks after I got home from London,” Rhode said.

While helping a friend with a wedding, they began talking about babies and going through the list of pregnancy symptoms.

“I was like, check, check, maybe this isn’t exhaustion,” Rhode said.

Her pregnancy was a difficult one, with Rhode bedridden at four months. Even today she is still dealing with complications. Son Carter was born on May 13, 2013, two to three weeks past due. Six weeks later, Rhode was taken by ambulance to the hospital to have her gallbladder removed. She wasn’t able to lift anything over five pounds – baby or Beretta.

Once she could lift her 9 ½-pound gun, Rhode said, “It was a very long road to get my endurance back.”

Kimberly Rhode competes during the women's trap shooting qualification at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Royal Artillery Barracks on Aug. 4, 2012 in London.

Rhode still undergoes physical therapy two or three times a week and leaves it to her husband, Mike Harryman, a stay-at-home dad and musician in a band called Fishing For Neptune, to chase Carter around. Because of problems with her bones, Rhode no longer can ski, line dance or camel race across the desert, but she can shoot.

In February, Rhode said, “I got the green light to be able to walk more than a block. So I was competing at about a 30 percent hindrance.

“But like most moms will say, ‘It kind of comes with the territory. I wouldn’t have it any other way.’”

Doctors have told Rhode she can’t have any more children. “I’m just blessed to have the one,” she said. “I’m living and enjoying every minute of it.”

Carter sometimes pulls for her at the range, sending a clay target shooting into the air. Rhode is up to about 700 targets a day, down from her usual average of 1,000 rounds.

“I’m not 100 percent,” she said. “I’m not close to being 100 percent. But at the same time, I am making progress and getting better and I have a beautiful son who’s perfectly healthy to show for it.

“I will say that it has made me stronger. It has given me a whole new appreciation for your health. And it’s one of those things where with a lot of work and a lot of support from a lot of different people, I am coming back.”

Rhode had success in 2014, earning medals in three world cup competitions, then earned the U.S. a quota spot at the Olympic Games by winning a 2015 world cup gold in Acapulco, Mexico. But she was sick part of that year including five days in the hospital with a bug after she was bitten by a mosquito in Cyprus. While that brings to mind the Zika virus, Rhode said it would not prevent her from going to Rio with her family.

Kimberly Rhode competes at the women's trap shooting qualification at the London 2012 Olympic Game at the Royal Artillery Barracks on Aug. 4, 2012 in London.

“We’re faced with different things, no matter where we go in the world, like Egypt with the water,” said Rhode, who recovered enough to win gold at the Pan American Games. “We’ve all been there, we’ve all eaten something or done something, so it’s nothing new to us in that sense.”

Rhode has been a fixture on the international scene more than half her life. She is a 14-time national champ and 23-time world cup medalist (tied for the most all-time in shotgun, with seven more than any other woman).

Rhode was just 16 when she won her first Olympic gold medal. “Every emotion hits you at once,” she said of standing on the victory podium. “You want to run, scream, cry, jump up and down and you just really don’t know which one to do first. It never gets old. Each journey is unique. I know when I was 16, I don’t think I really realized what it was I had done until I had gotten home.

“Now being 36, priorities and things change. You have much more of an appreciation for things and realizing what it means to be an American and what it means to have the honor to stand up there because very few people get to do it.”

Craft, 22, could join Rhode on the podium in Rio. They met in 2008 when Craft competed at her first national competition. “I still have a picture of us standing side by side,” Craft said. “She just welcomed me to the sport and said good luck and have fun – everything you could say to a 14-year-old that’s just beginning.”

She considers Rhode a role model not just for shooting, but for Olympic athletes in general. “She’s super-nice, down to earth, obviously a veteran of the sport, very knowledgeable,” Craft said.

“How she has competed on that level for the past 25-plus years is mind-blowing. She’s been shooting longer than I’ve been around. Come on, the endurance to participate in this sport for that long is incredible. Obviously, she loves the sport very much.”

And Rhode has the right temperament.

“Having an ultimate competitor’s mindset helps her tremendously,” said Vincent Hancock, who has won two straight Olympic gold medals in men’s skeet.

Rhode, who is coached by her father, Richard, said that she simply faces her fears while others sweep them under the rug. “It’s those things that will eat you alive in a competition,” she said. “For me, my biggest thing is really identifying them and systematically going through and trying to eliminate them. So that when I step out there, I’m very calm and very knowing that I can shoot a perfect score or do very, very well.”

That perfect score is more elusive since London, when women shot 75 targets plus another 25 in the final. The format in Rio will have women shooting 75 targets, then going to zero. They’ll shoot 16 targets in a round of eight, then another 16 in the medal matches.

“It’s just more personal, going for that perfect score,” said Rhode, whose 99 from London will always be the Olympic record unless the scoring system changes back. “I don’t have anything to prove, other than to myself that I can do this and really show my son that you can have a goal or a dream in life and obtain it. My big thing this year is to take my son and have him see it (in Rio). I don’t know if he’ll remember it, but we’re hopeful that he will and just really let him have the experience. And obviously I want to bring home those medals for the U.S.”

Olympic gold medalist Kim Rhode poses with her medal at the USA House at the Royal College of Art on July 29, 2012 in London.

So why is Rhode so good at shooting? “I never miss,” she said, laughing. “No, I’m kidding. I don’t know if it’s because I love the competition and I love that feeling, that head-to-head drive. I don’t know if I just like pain and training and pushing myself to be better.

“I don’t really know what it is. I will say that I love the sport, I love the people and I love what I do. I think you have to have that passion to be good at anything. You have to really want it.”

Good genes help, too. Rhode has been working on her family tree and found an old Indian fighter named George Rhode.

“He was on his way to help save Custer and got attacked by the band of Indians that had already attacked Custer (at Little Big Horn),” Rhode said.

He walked 40 miles and survived. “Otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” Rhode said.

She also counts presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams and inventor Samuel F.B. Morse among her ancestors.

As for the next generation, Carter has not begun shooting yet, but will when he is old enough, said his mother, who shot her first dove at age 7.

Oscar Swahn, the old Swede who won six Olympic medals, including three golds, was joined by his son, Alfred, in team competitions in 1908, 1912 and 1920. Alfred outdid his old man by winning nine Olympic medals.

Neither, however, made the Winchester box.

“After the London Games, Winchester Ammunition surprised me with putting a commemorative box of me on it,” Rhode said. “There are only four people to ever make the Winchester box: the founder of Winchester, John Wayne, Teddy Roosevelt and me.

“It’s like the Wheatie’s box for shooting, but cooler, way cooler – more prestigious.”

Naturally, Rhode had to collect them all. “I got one of each,” she said. “I ended up finding a couple of them and then I mentioned to Winchester that I was trying to find them and they gave me the ones that I didn’t have, so I was like, ‘Yes! Yes!’ Good score, right?”

The best.

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Kim Rhode