Cori Gordon, 15, has not only excelled within the sport of shooting clays, but has also leveraged that pursuit into becoming the best person she can be, physically and mentally.
“It’s everything,” she said. “It has taught me so much about life.”
In two weeks, Gordon will compete at the 2021 SCTP National Championships in Ohio July 8-17, where she will shoot in international and American skeet, sporting clays, American trap, doubles trap and skeet.
She’s come a long way. When Gordon was young she was afflicted with severe asthma.
“She’d play soccer for two weeks and end up with pneumonia just from the issues,” said mother Renae Gordon, also one of her shooting coaches.
But in shooting, she found a way to outrun her asthma problems.
Cori has learned that before ever firing a shot, she has to slow down, step out of the shooting box and collect her thoughts. Then she steps back in, closes her Beretta 692 over-under shotgun, and waits for the targets to start flying.
To help ingrain this process in her mind, she has a box taped on the ground of her basement at home. Everyday she has to step inside that box and imagine herself mounting for a round of international skeet, so that when she does the real thing, it comes as naturally as breathing or eating
“Even just stepping in (the box) with the same foot every time is important,” Cori said. “If you step out with the wrong foot it can pop you out of the zone.”
Renae said even a slight crack in focus can rile the best of shooters, mentioning how she has seen some competitors making 50 straight shots, and then miss their next three in a row- all due to a minor distraction.
“I can’t count how many times that has happened to me,” Cori said with a smile.
She is now a member of the Cody Clay Crushers Scholastic Clay Target Program team and has been a part of a few national-level shooting events. She has excelled in a sport where both genders can compete together.
“You know you’re out here with all the boys and can keep up,” she said. “It kind of levels the playing field and I love it. It kind of makes you feel good while you’re out there.”
She credits shooting with preparing her for “what’s ahead,” in life, teaching her the necessity to be dedicated to one’s craft, shooting 4-5 days a week on average.
In 2018, Cori became the first female to win the Wyoming 4-H State Shoot.
“It gives her a lot of self-confidence and satisfaction and self-respect,” Renae said. “It’s a respect sport. You respect the weapon. You respect your coach, your fellow athletes on the field. You respect your parents because they’re investing everything into it for you.”
Cori also participates in FFA, is a member of this year’s Stampede Rodeo Royalty and is an avid hunter.
Although bird hunting is most comparable to her sport, she said she enjoys elk hunting most of all.
“In elk, you have a little time to get yourself ready and take that deep breath,” she said.
She doesn’t usually miss.
When she was 10 years old, some family friends took her to a Pheasants Forever get-together, which is where she met her head clays coach Marty Romero. Romero could instantly spot her natural talent for shooting.
“He kept pushing that I should join the team and I was like, ‘this is pretty dang fun I should try it,’” Cori said. “I tried it and fell in love and here I am.”
In late May, she was one of 11 international skeet athletes accepted to participate at the 2021 Olympic and Sporting Clay Development Camp in Marengo, Ohio. Coaches at the camp included former shooting Olympian Terri DeWitt, and two-time Guinness World record holder Dave Miller, who was lead instructor for the sporting clays portion.
“That was probably one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had yet,” Cori said. “I learned so much and got to shoot with kids that are my age and have a lot of the same mentality as me where we want to do it, want to win, want to go to the Olympics.”
The purpose of the camp is to assist USA Shooting with finding sporting clays athletes who have the potential to become national team members and ultimately make the Olympics someday.
Renae said it was her daughter and one other attendee that particularly caught the coach’s attention. But Cori was more concerned about the challenge that international skeet presented her.
One of the biggest adjustments for Cori Gordon was adjusting to international skeet rules, which differs from American skeet in that it is faster, with targets thrown about 20 mph faster and alternating much more frequently. Another difference is that in international, competitors start with their gun down as opposed to American where they start with the gun up.
International rules are used in the Olympics.
Cori said mental training was the primary objective of the camp, especially important in a sport where so much of an athlete’s success is dependent on their focus and ability to quiet their minds. The goal of any great shooter is to get in “the zone,” a meditative point of thoughtless consciousness.
“You’re just kind of floating in space,” Cori said with a chuckle. “Everything just kind of happens.”
It’s a physical sport as well. The fact that the sport is played outdoors means Cori still had to manage her asthma to a certain extent, and her 7-pound gun isn’t exactly light as a feather when held in a precise manner with quick muscle movements for hours on end.
Her goal is to compete in at least 4-5 Junior Olympic qualifiers, which she hopes will help her become recognized by the SCTP national team next year, the junior level feeder program for the U.S. Olympic team.
“The coaches did recognize the talent where she’ll be able to go all the way if she applies herself,” family friend Lance Mathess said.
As she progresses Cori also has paid her own way to a large extent, always buying her own guns that average thousands of dollars, often using her FFA proceeds from her sold livestock to help make the purchase.
“It says alot about her character,” Mathess said.
Wyoming Outdoorsmen has been a big source of assistance as well, fundraising for the Clay Crushers to cover their extensive ammunition and entry fee costs.