First Person with … Mindy Miles

The junior rifle shooter won the 2016 NCAA Sportsmanship Award for self-reporting a misfire.

First Person with … Mindy Miles

The junior rifle shooter won the 2016 NCAA Sportsmanship Award for self-reporting a misfire.

The Horned Frog rifle team, a perennial national title contender, finished the year ranked second in the country. Miles, who hopes to compete in the Olympics, also placed second in the individual championships.
Mindy Miles

Junior rifle shooter Mindy Miles won the 2016 NCAA Sportsmanship Award for self-reporting a misfire during the finals of the national championships.
Courtesy of TCU Athletics/Photo by Sharon Ellman.

Your dad, after discovering all the scholarships for talented shooters, got you into the sport of rifle. Did you start competing in high school?
Yes, in ninth grade. I started with sporters – that’s without all the gear – in November of my eighth-grade year. Then my dad asked if I wanted to go into it with more gear. He wanted to make sure I was committed and wanted to stay in it, and then he bought me more gear and more guns.

How has your relationship with your father grown through sharing the sport?
It always gave me a buddy. We started from zero together and we’ve learned together. He’s definitely had a harder learning curve than I have, even though I’m the one doing it. He’s always ahead of me somehow.

What made you want to continue to shoot in college?
It gave me a community I’ve never had before. I was in basketball when I was younger, but I never felt a good connection to it. Then I came into rifle and I made friends and had a community. You can go up to a random person – a range officer, a dad, a random spectator – and they’ll be nice and help you no matter what.

Why did you choose to join the rifle team at TCU?
I looked at a lot of big-name schools. I went to every one of them, and I didn’t have that “ah-ha” moment. TCU was actually my first visit, and I didn’t know how I felt about it. But I found myself comparing everything to TCU. It’s what I knew best. It’s what I thought would fit me.

Did staying close to home appeal to you?
I actually didn’t want to stay close to home. I thought I was one of those people who would grow up and want to get away from their parents so I could figure out who I was, but I feel like I’ve learned who I am, even close to home. I see now that if I had gone out of state, I would have really missed being home and being able to be close. I think it would have been very odd, very weird and hard.

Karen Monez, your coach, has led the TCU rifle team to three second-place finishes at the NCAA Championships. What have you learned from being part of such an accomplished coach’s program?
I learned a lot of fundamentals from her. I’ve learned so much about team dynamics and friendships and relationships. You have to work with your team, and everybody has to work together. It’s really interesting to compare my coach to other coaches, like how she handles us and how she has an individual approach to every single kid on the team. I feel like other coaches are more generic, and we get very special treatment.

What’s the most challenging aspect of the sport for you? What’s your favorite?
The most challenging is being present in the moment. I have a very busy mind because I worry a lot. It’s hard to put everything aside once I get into the range. You have to do everything right, every single time, for it to be good. It’s very hard to put that many components together in a shot. But the most rewarding things are my team and the relationships I’ll take away from college.

You’ve had several major athletic accomplishments since you’ve been at TCU, including being the team’s top air-rifle shooter in the 2015-2016 season and finishing second in the individual finals at the NCAA Championship. Did you expect to have this much success?
I wanted to come here and excel. I’ve always been the kind of person who, if I’m going to do something, I’m going to work my hardest. I’m going to work my butt off and do my best even if it’s just for me and not for other people. I don’t mind if I don’t get rewards for it. I just want to do well from my point of view. But I really didn’t expect it. It’s unreal.

With all the traveling and all the practicing, how do you balance school with athletics?

It’s hard. It took practice – a lot of practice. High school didn’t do much for me. I came out of it and had no clue how to study. Freshman year, I went to Spain for the world championships, so I missed two weeks. I came back not knowing how to study or do this college thing. That was a really hard slap in the face to get it together. And I did; it was just a learning curve. It’s about prioritizing. Being here and now in practice is important, and being in class means not worrying about practice.

Mindy Miles

Courtesy of TCU Athletics/Photo by Sharon Ellman

What’s your most memorable competition moment?
Last year at the NCAA Championships, they were giving out awards. We were being called up for all of the team scores, and the team was sitting together. It was just a good moment of cohesion, and we were happy.

What does receiving the NCAA Sportsmanship Award mean to you?
It means a lot because I feel like that’s really what I stand for. It’s who I am.

You won the NCAA Sportsmanship Award for calling your own penalty after your rifle misfired during the NCAA Championships. No one would have known if you hadn’t called it. Why did you make the decision to inform the judges of your mistake knowing it might cost you a title? What was going through your head?
Honestly, I don’t think it was a decision. It was just an instinct. My hand shot up because that’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s a rule and you follow it. It’s a competition. It’s not a decision you should have to make.

Where do you hope rifle takes you in the future?
I really want to go to the Olympics. As far as how to get there, I don’t know yet. But that’s where I want to go. Also, I really want to stay a part of the Fort Worth community no matter what job I get.

Editor’s note: The questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.

–As told to Makenzie Stallo