The following appears in the August issue of California Sportsman. Note: David Higgins’ Rio event, the 50-meter prone rifle, begins on Friday, Aug. 12 at 5 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time (the finals are scheduled for 7 a.m.). Check NBCOlympics.com for streaming or broadcast TV information.
By Chris Cocoles
Certain Olympic Games get marred by controversy before a single medal is awarded: Adolf Hitler’s 1936 propaganda circus in Berlin, boycotts by the 1980 U.S. delegation in Moscow and the Eastern Bloc four years later in Los Angeles.
Rio de Janeiro’s struggles to have all the facilities ready for this month’s Games of the XXXI Olympiad to crime concerns and fears over the Zika virus – causing many prominent athletes to withdraw, publicly or likely privately – have taken much of the focus off the actual games themselves.
The criticism of Rio has been so omnipresent and harsh that it’s been easy to forget about the athletes who are representing their countries in Brazil. David Higgins is one of those unheralded USA Shooting members to feel good about. The 22-year-old recent Air Force Academy graduate from San Clemente (Orange County) was perceived as an unlikely Rio qualifier in 50-meter prone rifle (USA Shooting News referred to his qualification with adjectives like “dark horse,” “underdog” and “wild card.”). At the U.S. Olympic Smallbore Team Trials in April, Higgins rallied on the final day to finish first and claim the one remaining available spot in his event.
Higgins’ dad is a Marine colonel and David will soon follow in his father’s footsteps by being cross-commissioned into the Marine Corps to become an infantry officer. But first, Higgins is representing his country on the world’s stage at his
Aug. 12 event.
Before he headed to Rio, Higgins shared his thoughts on training, lobster traps, his military legacy and being a part of the USA Shooting family (El Monte resident Kim Rhode also qualified for Rio and will shoot for a sixth consecutive medal at an Olympics).
Chris Cocoles Tell me about your days in Southern California and how you developed a love for competitive rifle?
David HigginsMy family lived in Southern California four different times as a result of moving around with the Marine Corps. It wasn’t until the fourth time that I became a competitive shooter. We moved back to Camp Pendleton the summer before my senior year of high school.
During that year I trained smallbore (.22-caliber) rifle up at the Los Angeles Rifle and Revolver Club (LAR&R) in El Monte. I was incredibly fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to train there. The members of the coaching team were nationally certified and even included a former Olympian. This great coaching staff produced great shooters that I was able to train and compete alongside with during my senior year, as well as during breaks from the Academy. When I wasn’t shooting, I could be found surfing at the T-street Break near my home in San Clemente, or riding mountain bikes along the trails in the San Juan Capistrano Hills.
CCDid you have a lot of different activities/sports going on when you were younger, or were you focused mostly on shooting?
DH Throughout high school, I competed in track and field as well as soccer at the same time that I was shooting.
CC You see so many successful athletes in any sport – team or individual – and they’ll tell how hard they had to practice to reach an elite level. Was that true for you and do you look back now wondering how much work you’ve had to put in to get to this point?
DHIt is absolutely true. I’ve put in thousands of hours of range time and probably shot hundreds of thousands of rounds to get to where I am today. But I know that there are many rifle athletes who have put in the hours as well, which is why I’m incredibly thankful that I had such amazing coaches who steered my training in the right direction to maximize my efforts.
CC As the son of a Marine colonel, was getting a military education at the Air Force Academy and competing for the Falcons’ rifle team kind of a natural fit for you, especially since you aspire to follow in your dad’s footsteps in the Marine Corps?
DH The Air Force Academy was a perfect fit for me. I’m a very structured person and the military education that I received at the Academy meshed perfectly with my personality. I’ve known for many years that I wanted to serve in the military. When the Academy recruited me for their rifle team, I couldn’t imagine a more perfect way to do that. It was during my time at the Academy that I realized I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps that lead to the Marines. Fortunately, there is a program at the Academy that prepared me during my second and third years to go to Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.
The Academy has been very accommodating in all of my endeavors – from leaving school to compete in international competitions to preparing me to cross-commission into the Marine Corps. If I had to do it all over again, I would definitely go to the Air Force Academy. Without a doubt in my mind, it was the
CC A lot of competitive shooters also hunt. Do you do any hunting or fishing?
DH I’ve never really hunted and only fished a few times. However, every year when lobster season comes around, I go out on my girlfriend’s dad’s boat and drop pots. It’s an awesome feeling when you pull up a pot filled with keepers and you have to throw some back because you’ve hit your limit for the night.
CC You’re also passionate about other outdoor activities like rock climbing, sailing and surfing. Is it important to sometimes get away from shooting and just do something else?
DH I find that it is very important to take a break from shooting every once in a while. It allows me to recharge and come back to training more focused and more energetic about shooting. When I take those breaks, I really like to explore all the places that Southern California has to offer. Sometimes it is rock climbing off of the Ortega Highway, hiking to Potato Chip Rock near San Diego or going out and enjoying the waves in
CC You qualified in prone rifle for Rio. What’s worked for you to make that event your most successful?
DH Of the rifle events, prone has always been my favorite. I always have fun when I’m shooting prone, and I think that has allowed me to put in the hours of training that are required to compete at such a high level. In my opinion, having fun and being passionate about your event/sport is an absolute requirement if you want to be successful at it.
CC With so much debate going on with gun control and so many tragedies involving firearms, I don’t think enough Americans pay attention and/or respect what you men and women of USA Shooting do and provide us with something positive in the world of shooting. Is that important for you and your teammates to do as you represent Team USA in Brazil?
DH The one thing that I really hope people can understand about our sport is that it is all about perfection. We are constantly striving towards perfection in every single shot. As I’ve matured as a shooter, the sport has taught me the importance of self-discipline and not cutting corners.
CC The narrative seemed to be that you were a surprise qualifier for the Summer Games. You kind of joked about that, but in all seriousness, was it a case of you just believing in yourself and saying “to hell with the odds” as a perceived longshot and just getting the job done at the Olympic Trials? Are you getting the last laugh now?
DH I had been shooting well in training leading up to the Olympic Trials, so I knew that I would be near the top, as long as I was able to keep my head on straight. After the second day I was in second place. That night in the hotel room, I just told myself that I was going to go out there and enjoy myself no matter what happened. That’s exactly what I did. It turned out to be the best score I had ever shot and it was a good enough day to win the match. I truly think that reminding myself to enjoy the match is what allowed me to shoot such solid scores. I’ve known all of the guys who were out there competing with me for years now. We’re all great friends and I’m just glad that my training got the job done for me. CS