Team USA Resident-Athlete Series: McKenna Dahl of Para Shooting

By Cady Lowery | Oct. 08, 2019, 4:08 p.m. (ET)

McKenna Dahl competes in the mixed 10m air rifle prone SH2 final at the Parapan American Games Lima 2019.

Get to know the athletes living at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado and the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Center in Chula Vista, California through the Team USA Resident-Athlete Series. Each month, will feature one Paralympic athlete in detail, as they share their athletic and personal journeys, goals for the future, and much more.

Meet Para shooter McKenna Dahl, one of the many resident-athletes living and training at the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Dahl recently won two medals at the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru. Now she has her sights set on securing at spot at Tokyo 2020.

Name: McKenna Dahl

Age: 23

Sport: Para shooting

Hometown: Arlington, Washington

School: DeVry University

Recent accomplishments: Won gold at the first ever Para shooting event at the Parapan American Games in the mixed 10m air rifle stand SH2 and followed it up with a silver medal in the mixed 10M air rifle pro SH2, leaving Lima with two medals. 

When did you first get involved with your sport?

When I was six, I attended an outdoor camp for kids with disabilities called Camp Access, which was started by a veteran who was disabled. He wanted to introduce the kids to anything and everything outdoors that he could adapt. Adapting outdoor activities for kids with various disabilities can be really difficult, but that was his whole mission.

I was one of the youngest that started at the camp. One morning, all the younger kids got to go bowling and all the older kids got to go to a shooting range. The age requirement at the range was 12. When I turned 12, I had already known the director for a good amount of time, and I got to shoot. The director saw how much I enjoyed this morning on the range. We were just shooting 22s on an outdoor range, having a blast, and it went from there. 

A couple months later, he invited me to shoot at a sectional he was hosting, and it was just for athletes with disabilities. I met athletes from around the country who came in for this match. I ended up beating the director at his own event. And I thought, 'I could do this.' 

My dad and grandpa pulled together and bought me my first rifle, which was awesome to do with them, and I ended up going to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for a junior match. That put me in contact with the Paralympic coach at the training center at the time, and he invited me to a para camp he was hosting at the end of the year. From January to December of the same year, I went from thinking this is sport is cool to realizing I could do this.

What was your first experience on campus like?
I basically showed up and was so blown away. I was only about 13 or 14, and I was like, “Wow, this exists?” Just being here, getting to roll around the complex, seeing other athletes - that was outstanding. Now there are three Para shooting athletes on campus, so it’s smaller, but still so cool to share this experience. 

Favorite thing about living in Colorado Springs/at the Training Center: 
Living here has given me the chance to be around other like-minded people. The community is competitive, but they’re also my friends. We’re all here to accomplish our goals, which is cool. The place is beautiful, obviously, and the community has been great. 

What kind of opportunities has living at the OPTC given you?

Moving here after high school, the goal was to qualify for Rio. I had zero intentions of starting college until after the Games, but after I lived here for five months, I quickly realized that I could get so focused I didn’t spread out. I started college classes and graduated with a degree in 2017. I never would have been able to do that if I didn’t live here. Now, I have a college degree, and I’m one class away from my master’s. That never would have happened for me. And at the same time, being able to focus on sports with other people doing the same made a huge difference in me winning a medal in Rio. 

What’s your favorite thing about your sport?

I have friends in every country practically. I could text anyone, and I would have a place to sleep almost anywhere. Our community is so small that we will compete against each other for an hour and then go back to the hotel and play cards. It’s just great to have that community and to experience a culture outside of our own. 

Where is the coolest place that you’ve competed at? 

My first international trip was to Austria. It was outside of Vienna in a smaller town. We were there over New Years, so they had a banquet they hosted New Year’s Eve. Then New Year’s Day they had a planned sightseeing day. We got to go into the city, go into a church, eat lunch in a wine cellar. It was all just cool. 

Who has played a big role in you getting to where you are?

My grandpa and dad came together and bought me my first rifle all those years ago, and that really helped me. For a long time my dad traveled with me to tournaments, too. 

What has been your proudest moment in your athletic career so far? 

The Rio Games were really cool. I was the first Para shooting medal in 12 years and the first woman to ever medal. All around, it was just cool. 

What are some of your goals for your athletic career?

Right now, we’re heading into world championships. We have a new coach who’s younger and has new ideas, which is so exciting. This is the biggest competition outside of the Paralympics, so it’s a huge opportunity for us. There are 53 quota spots up for grabs, and the top 3 make it from each event. That’s a ton of opportunity for us. 

What’s next? 

The goal for my athletic career is obviously to qualify for Tokyo 2020, which is exciting in many ways, especially just seeing how much the sport has grown since I’ve been a part of it. But as for my life, next month I’m getting married, which is going to be awesome. His name is Daniel, and I actually met him at the training center when we had an event here in 2012. I was about to shoot, and he had to leave to drive home, but my dad stopped him and actually gave him my phone number. We became friends, and it just turned into more than that. I’ll be moving out of the OPTC at the end of the year after living here for almost six years, but it’s been great. I’m excited for this next chapter. The next year will be an adventure.