Corey Cogdell-Unrein describes standing on the Olympic podium as a near-death experience. “Your whole life passes before your eyes. You see all the people who said you could never make it, and all the people who helped you along the way. You see all the ups and downs of your journey.” Cogdell-Unrein, bronze medalist in 2008, hopes to experience that feeling again in Rio, where she will represent the U.S. in trap for the third time.
Shooting for Self-Esteem
Born into a hunting family in Alaska, Cogdell-Unrein started shooting BB guns and .22s when she was three or four years old, and started competing at clays at age 14 in a 4H program. “Shooting really helped grow my self-esteem,” she says. “It’s a great for women to learn how to handle guns for sport and self-protection.
“At first shooting is intimidating to some women,” she says, “but a lot of men at gun clubs are very happy to see women shooting. Lots of men my father’s and grandfather’s age wanted to help me. I was also lucky that my first coach was a woman, and she had two daughters who shot,” she says. “We were part of the first all-girl squad ever to shoot at the Grand American Handicap [American trap’s biggest event].”
After rising through the Scholastic Clay Target Program ranks, Cogdell-Unrein moved to Texas to train seriously and made the U.S. National Team after only a few months. “That’s when I really started to think I might have a shot at the Olympics,” she says. Two years later she medaled in Beijing.
Shoot, and Shoot, and Shoot Some More
With the 2016 Olympics almost here, Cogdell-Unrein is absorbed in training for the games. Her usual shooting season runs from January to October. In the off-season months she works out, to ensure that she’s able to lift a 9-pound gun a few hundred times a day when she starts shooting.
Her training begins with long sessions of repetitive shooting. “I’ll shoot 200 to 300 targets a day,” she says. “I need to check gun fit, which changes every year, and rebuild muscle memory. I work on little changes to my shooting style, too.” During this early phase of training, Cogdell-Unrein will repeat targets that are giving her trouble and do drills. “I’ll shoot the same target over and over, and won’t let myself move to the next one until I have broken this one six or seven times in a row. That drill lets me practice shooting under pressure.”
In this early training phase, Cogdell-Unrein does a lot of shooting with only one barrel (international trap allows two shots at each target) to practice making the first shot count and not rely on the second barrel.
Later in the season, Cogdell-Unrein tapers down to 75 targets a day, shoots full rounds, and keeps score. At this point, she is working on her mental game, learning how to focus throughout a round and keep her thinking performance-oriented (thinking about what she has to do to break targets) and not outcome oriented (thinking about her score.) She also says it’s important to take breaks. “No one can shoot at their peak all the time,” she says. ”I’ll take five or seven days off after a competition.”
Coming From Behind
In June, Cogdell-Unrein secured her spot as the U.S. team’s sole female trapshooter by winning the second selection match. Two matches comprising a total of 500 targets and four finals determine the top gun. Cogdell-Unrein trailed by two birds going into the second match. “Honestly, that’s my comfort zone,” she says, “I like shooting from behind. If you’re the frontrunner, people think you’re going to make the team. There’s lot of distractions, and pressure and attention from media and relatives. I was behind going into the second match all three times I made the team.”
Cogdell-Unrein is looking forward to her third Olympics. “The first time when I medaled I was young and dumb. I got by on talent and adrenaline,” she says. “In 2012 I was a much more mature athlete, but I had a lot of distractions. There was a petition with 50,000 signatures on it to get me kicked off the team because I hunt. I was receiving death threats and had to have special security details. I didn’t perform as well as I could have.” Cogdell-Unrein finished 11th in the London games, and is eager for another chance to compete.
“I am a more mature athlete now and I’m looking forward to putting everything I have practiced and learned to the test,” she says. “One of the benefits to getting married [her husband, Mitch Unrein, plays defensive end for the Chicago Bears] is I that have a life outside shooting now. I used to be too wrapped up in shooting emotionally and I put too much pressure on myself. Now I shoot for the love of the sport. When I’m in Rio, I’ll try to have fun and realize how lucky I am to be there.”
We’re fortunate to have an athlete with Cogdell-Unrein’s ability, dedication, and healthy perspective represent the United States—no matter how she finishes.