LIMA, Peru - “Let me tell you about the week I’ve had.”
Lucas Kozeniesky is leaning up against a barrier at Las Palmas Air Base and breathing a heavy sigh of relief. He has finally done his job, earning a Pan American Games gold medal and an Olympic quota spot for Team USA in men’s indoor 10-meter air rifle. But his eyes are tired, his shoulders slouching. The past four days have gone anything but according to plan.
Kozeniesky has come face-to-face with Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Throughout the past five days, he’s lost several pieces of his equipment and nearly failed to arrive in Lima.
Oh, and he almost lost an organ.
Monday, July 29: Kozeniesky arrives at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, traveling several days in advance of his Pan American Games event on Friday, August 2. One flight per day leaves from Houston to Lima, Peru. Today, Kozeniesky learns, that flight is cancelled.
Thanks to frequent flyer points and a last-minute upgrade, Kozeniesky is able to secure a first-class seat on the next day’s flight, one of the few lucky breaks he will receive in the coming days. He gets to lie down during the flight.
Kozeniesky has had mild stomach pains the past few days, but he ignores them for the time being.
Tuesday, July 30: Kozeniesky finally lands in Lima but some of his equipment doesn’t. To make matters worse, the turbulence on the flight has shifted a number of his gun’s adjustments, mechanical components critical to his competitive success. Kozeniesky puts it out of his mind and focuses on making it to the athlete village.
His stomach hurts slightly more.
Wednesday, July 31: It’s a practice day for Kozeniesky, and he’s at the shooting range adjusting his gun. Things are going relatively well; he’s starting to settle into a rhythm.
Then the stomach pain gets worse. Much worse. The dull discomfort quickly becomes a searing agony. He rushes back to the athlete village and goes straight to Team USA’s sport medicine team. They think his appendix might burst.
“They put me in a car and drove me to a local hospital as fast as possible,” Kozeniesky recalls. “I had a CT scan and was there for nearly six hours.”
He’s told he has a kidney infection. He’s given a five-day prescription of antibiotics and is sent back to the athlete village.
Thursday, August 1: Kozeniesky wakes up and the antibiotics are working. His stomach is feeling better, and he’s on his way to the shooting range.
Then, midway through his training session, Kozeniesky opens his equipment bag. Some of his equipment is missing, stolen from the athlete village. Worse, his gun is having problems again.
It’s one day before his event.
Kozeniesky plays those words over and over again in his mind as he begins his qualification round for the indoor 10m air rifle. He qualifies for the final with a fourth-place finish, working through more gun adjustments with his coach. But he’s made it. Despite a cancelled flight, a kidney infection, gun malfunctions and stolen equipment, Kozeniesky has reached his event final.
And he has one job left to do.
“It didn’t matter if I was healthy or missing organs,” he later says. “I told myself that I’m getting on the firing line, and I’m going to shoot that match.”
Kozeniesky never relinquishes the lead during the final. He hits a perfect shot on his second-to-last attempt. He captures the gold medal and secures the final Olympic quota spot in rifle for Team USA.
When he walks off the range, a gold medal around his neck, he leans on one the barriers and sighs.
“Let me tell you about the week I’ve had.”