Grace Marlen has been hunting and shooting clay targets since she was strong enough to hold a gun.
It was her dad, Nate Marlen, a former national collegiate trap shooting placewinner while competing for the University of Illinois club team, who introduced his daughter to the sport.
“I took Grace hunting with me when she was little, but she’s been shooting she was 9 or 10.”
Now 16 and heading into her senior year at Freeburg High School, Grace Marlen is building her strength by hoisting trophies.
Competing at the Scholastic Clay Target Program Nationals in Marengo, Ohio, Grace shot a perfect 200 of 200 to win the 16-yard American Trap to win the Ladies division. Tied with two male shooters, including the defending champion, Marlen then won a shoot off by hitting 75-of-75 clay targets before a large crowd at the grandstand at Cardinal Shooting Center.
The flawless performance not only earned Marlen the honor of being the first female
to earn the high overall total in the American Trap Class, she also became the first female to earn the $7,600 Browning College Scholarship.
“I had been in shoot-offs before but never in front of that many people. The grandstand was full,” Grace said. “I was locked in that day... I wasn’t really keeping track. But I knew that if I dropped one I would lose the competition and also the scholarship.
“I was thinking it would be cool if I could be the first girl to win the overall championship. Then to win the scholarship as well. ... It took about 30-45 minutes after the competition, but when it sunk in that I had done it I couldn’t hardly believe it.”
The competition was held July 13-20 and more than 3,000 of the top young shooters in the nation competed.
Using a Browning shotgun in 16 yard singles trap, Grace also competed in the sporting clays
, American skeet, doubles skeet, Bunker (International) trap, American trap, doubles trap, and Handicap trap at this year’s nationals.
For the week, she finished with two first place medals as well as a second and third place medal.
All-around athlete Grace is a solid all-around athlete who excels both in the classroom and on the athletic field. A straight-A student, her dad says, she is ranked in the top 10 of her senior class at Freeburg and has already recorded a 31 on the ACT test. She has also competed on both the Freeburg cross country team and track and field team.
Grace said she will spend her senior year concentrating on her shooting and looking for a good college
“I would like to shoot in college because its something I really enjoy. So if the opportunity presents itself, it’s something I could pursue,” she said. “I would like to to continue to shoot as I get older too. I probably wouldn’t want to do it in competitions, but it’s something I would like to think that 10 years down the road that I go out and still be able to shoot.’’
A member of Team Henges, Grace says shooting has helped her in other aspects of her life. Traveling throughout the nation has allowed her to make friends and see places that many her age don’t have the opportunity to achieve.
“I really like the sport, I love to compete and then I’ve made a lot of friends in this sport. Not only friends on my team but I’ve met friends from place like Iowa and Georgia, that had it not been for this sport, I wouldn’t have ever had the opportunity to do. I’m very thankful for that,” she said. “I would encourage anybody who had an interest to try this sport, even if you think you won’t be any good at it. I think the first competition I was in I hit like 30 out of 180 or something close to that.”
Shooting sports test a participants physical and mental strength
, she said, which gives it added appeal.
“It’s not like picking up a soccer ball. It was nothing like that,” Marlen said. “It was difficult at first but I think after the first year or so I started to get the hang of it. It became more mental for me than anything else.
“Once I got the physical part down it became that way for me. I mean right now, it’s probably 90 mental and 10 percent physical for me.”
Training includes practices several times per week and then some during the summer months.
Over-achievers “Most of kids out here are good kids,” Nate Marlen said. “This sport teaches kids to be responsible, it teaches discipline and it teaches hard work. Like anything, you have to be willing to put in the hard work. Most of the kids out here are over-achievers.”
Both Nate and Grace Marlen agree that two of the most important aspects of the sport are the ability to focus and concentrate. Grace also has the ability to perform at a high level when the pressure is at its peak.
“I’m better under pressure. I honestly don’t know if you can learn that. I just think that’s the way I am. The way I adjust to things,” she said. “This is fun for me I don’t think I would do it or that I would have as much passion for it if it was like a full-time job..
“The people that I’ve met through this sport and getting to do what I love is it’s just amazing.”