Somehow, in between the classes, tests, training, and drills, David Higgins found time to practice his shooting.
It certainly paid off, as the marksmen marksman will be the recent first ever current Air Force Academy cadet-turned-Marine is headed to Rio to take part in the the world's top sporting competition participate in the Olympic Games. Higgins, currently a senior, graduates June 2, and shortly thereafter travels down to Rio, Brazil to take part in the famous event.
Air Force Times reporter Phillip Swarts spoke with Higgins about his journey to the world’s top sporting competition:
Q: So Describe your event — men's prone rifle.
A: You shoot .22-caliber rifles at 50 meters in a prone position — just lying down. We shoot at a target that’s scored electronically. So there's there are four microphones in the target, and every time a bullet goes through, it rips a piece of rubber, and the microphones record how long it takes. And it comes back to us on a screen right by where you’re shooting. And so you’re basically just trying to get as close to the center target, every single shot, as you can.
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The way it works in the international shooting world, there’s there are three events for men’s rifle. There’s air rifle, which is 60 shots standing; there’s three-position small-bore rifle, which is the .22 rifle, and that’s shot at 50 meters and that’s kneeling, prone, and standing; and then there’s the 50 meter prone event. And on the women’s side, they only shoot three-position and air rifle.
Q: What got you interested in the sport?
A: I got started shooting at my grandparents' farm one summer. I got to shoot the whole week. And I thought that was really cool. But I never really shot again for several years until we moved out to Louisiana. We were at my little brother's soccer game, and this guy was wearing a competitive shooting shirt. So I went up and talked to him and he invited us up to the range to shoot a match. And I went out, loved it, kept going back.
Q: How did you decide to try out for the Olympics?
A: I started shooting competitively in 8th grade, shooting a discipline called high-power rifle, which is shooting an .air 15 at 200, 300, 600 yards. And I shot that for a few years, but then I learned that you needed to shoot what’s called a "national-style rifle," which is the air rifle and the small bore. And you want to get a scholarship out of it for college. That’s what they shoot in the [National Collegiate Athletic Association]. So I started shooting that in 10th grade. I got good enough to get a scholarship, and I ended up getting that to the Air Force Academy. And so I just kept at it. I plugged away. The Olympics is definitely the pinnacle of the sport. That’s kind of what everybody’s shooting for. And as far as the Olympics go, I sort of knew when I was a really little kid. Because I remember watching the Sydney games in Australia in 2000. I was only 6 at the time, but I knew back then I wanted to go to the Olympics at some point for whatever sport it may be. So it’s always been a dream of mine.
Q: What was the tryout process like?
A: In order to go to trials, you had to have shot a qualifying score, which is, you have to shoot that in an international competition, where it’s eligible, [and then] you go to trials. I had done that the previous year, checked that box, and then the trails were a couple weeks ago down in Fort Benning, Georgia, and it’s three days of shooting a called event. So you shoot the event, and a certain amount of people from that day make the final. Depending on where you place in the final, you get bonus points added to your score. So it’s three days of that. And it’s just incredibly stressful. There’s There are several people at the top, and we all had chances of making it. You’ve got to have perfect aim. It’s super stressful. Honestly, after it was all over, I knew I had made it, but the only thing I really cared about was the fact that the match was over and the stress was gone.
Q: Once you had some time to recover from the event, how did it feel knowing you were going to the Olympics?
A: In the initial interviews that we did, my face is just kind of welded with this massive smile. I was just so excited. I had been working really hard and shooting competitively for nine years, and it just all culminated at that point in making it on to the Olympic team. That was huge.
Q: What part of Air Force training and being at the Academy helped you prepare for this?
A: Obviously everybody knows that we're all very strict and supportive. It doesn't matter what sport it is, you need to be very disciplined. You can't take shortcuts. For rifle specifically, if you take shortcuts, you start missing the middle. So you have to be very disciplined in going through your routine, every single time, no matter how monotonous it may get or how confident you may be. You need to hit every single step along the way every single time. I think discipline has been instilled; for me, going to the Academy really helped out with that.
Q: So what are you most looking forward to when you get down to Rio?
A: I feel like as soon as we get to the Olympic Village, that's when it's actually going to hit me. But the whole Olympics environment, I've always wanted to go to the Olympics just to watch, so being a competitor is even cooler. Being in the stadiums is going to be awesome. The games are supposed to be amazing. And just being surrounded by all the elite athletes in their respective sports is really cool. To know that I'm a part of that is awesome.
Q: When are you heading down to Brazil?
A: I head down for the first time [April 16] to shoot the test event. Every sport has a test event. It's a few months before the Olympics, just so the organizing committee can make sure everything's running smoothly and then all the athletes get a chance to utilize the facilities before the Olympics. That way they don't show up to the Olympics and have something weird with the facilities. So I'm going down [for the test event] for a whole week and then for the Olympics I'll head on out there probably the 1st of August.
Air Force Academy cadet-turned-Marine 2nd Lt. David Higgins, center, is competing in men's prone rifle at the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Photo Credit: Team USA
Q: What does it mean to you to be an Olympian?
A: You have coaches that are former Olympians. Our head coach is a gold medalist from the Barcelona games, and then our assistant coach is a silver medalist from the Athens games. You always looked up to them because they were coaching you, teaching you. Now it's cool to realize that I'm just kind of like them, at the top of my sport right now. It's something I've always wanted to do.