LIMA, Peru -- “Give me a break,” muttered a member of the crowd, followed by awestruck applause.
Kim Rhode, the six-time Olympic medalist, six-time Pan American Games medalist, four-time world championship medalist and three-time national champion, had just done what she’s done countless times before.
Three steps to the platform. Left foot in front of right. Bend the knees. Aim for the sky. Lower the gun to the hip. Deep breath. Pause.
Two shots fired. Two clay pigeons hit. For the fifth straight time.
Several minutes later, the crowd’s tepid, awestruck applause grew to uninhibited admiration. Ten-straight successful shots became 19, and as Rhode walked away from Station No. 6 at the Base Las Palmas shooting range, shouts of “Bravo!” rang out in the warm, mid-afternoon air.
It was another day on the range for Kim Rhode and another Pan American Games gold medal.
Commanding the event lead from its very first station, Rhode hit 55 of 60 clay pigeons to claim the gold medal in women’s skeet. As she stepped to the top of the podium and placed her hand over her heart for the sixth time in her Pan American Games career, she felt something that surprised her: the formation of tears.
“I almost cried up there when they were playing the national anthem,” Rhode admitted. “I was thinking about the upcoming Olympics, and it’s just so emotional to hear the anthem for me. Every journey is different and each one presents its own obstacles. I’m just thrilled that things turned out well today.”
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Rhode is soft-spoken about her pervious successes, carrying humility that stems from her very beginnings in the sport. Before the bright lights and fanfare of an Olympic Games, there were countless small, nameless competitions. She remembers her father Richard introducing her to shooting at age 10. She remembers her first Pan American Games in Argentina in 1995, living in repurposed military barracks, piling up crumpled newspapers over her room’s glass walls.
Those experiences have shaped Rhode into the shooter and the person that she is, someone that other Team USA athletes turn to for advice, support and inspiration.
“You never really think of yourself in that sense, so it’s been fun to look back on those early years of experience and fill people in the best I can,” Rhode said. “It’s just incredible to watch our sport grow and to be able to share my first-hand experience with other athletes.”
“She’s been in every situation you could possibly think of, so she’s a great person to turn to,” Dania Vizzi added. Vizzi earned her first Pan American Games medal – a bronze – at today’s event.
“She’s taught me to keep your stride. She just fights to the end, and you’ve got to keep fighting because you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”
That’s a lesson Rhode learned from her father, along with something else smaller, more subtle. After an athlete was eliminated from the skeet final, they were always met first by the same person – Rhode, hand outstretched, a soft smile on her face.
“My parents raised me right, I guess,” Rhode said. “I’ve been in that situation so many times. Sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose, and I know how that feels, so I just want to be the first to congratulate my competitors because you’re the best of the best just to be here.”
As for the lessons she hopes to pass on to her six-year-old son, Carter?
“Right now, he’s into monsters, dinosaurs and everything ‘boy,’” Rhode chuckled. “But, right now, one thing I hope he takes away [from my career] is that you give it your all, you give it your very best. As my dad says, ‘This isn’t a dress rehearsal. You’ve only got one life, so you’ve got to do it all.’”
Rhode is doing that and then some. She hopes to reach her seventh Olympic Games in 2020 and compete in at least seven more Games to come. She hopes to continue to share the lessons she’s learned with the next generation of her sport and the next generation of Rhodes.
She hopes to tear up once again when the national anthem plays in Tokyo.