At 24 years old and fresh out of college, Rachel Martin trains every day in rifle for the Olympic Trials with hopes of making it to 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
Martin grew up not liking rifle because she thought she had little talent. Now, she’s in a position to represent both the United States and Nebraska in it.
Martin is in her first year as Nebraska’s head coach for rifle, splitting time between training and leading a Division I program. But, that balance doesn’t affect Martin in the slightest.
“Honestly, it’s been great because it brought a lot to the team that we’re still very [current] in the sport and understand the changes that are going on,” she said.
Martin’s familiarity with Nebraska helps her navigate the challenges of not having any coaching experience. After all, Martin was one of the best Huskers in school history, finishing second in the NCAA Championships in smallbore back in 2015.
With having such a quick turnaround from playing to coaching, Martin is coaching some former teammates — a challenge that was quickly solved, as both the players and Martin came to an understanding that her role was different.
“I came in with an advantage because I already knew how their personalities worked,” Martin said. “But we really did have to sit down when I came in and draw those lines of … a coach-athlete relationship.”
Nebraska rifle achieved its highest score in a match, scoring 4,707 points in an NCAA Qualifier win over Murray State, a culmination of a season’s worth of work under the first-year head coach.
“It was so awesome to see,” senior Maddie Korthas said. “I still get… giddy about it, and I’m proud of everybody.”
Throughout the season, and especially during the first half of the schedule, the Huskers lost several close matches and fell short of achieving the scoring they wanted.
Despite those hiccups, Martin did not flinch, as she knew the progress would take time. When she became a head coach, she first needed someone on board with her plan.
In April 2019, Martin brought on as an assistant coach Mindy Miles, a former TCU athlete who trained with Martin at the United States Olympic Training Center.
Miles and Martin made up one of the NCAA’s more noviced coaching staff, as the two had a combined one year of coaching in the NCAA. Still, the two had a plan lined up ahead that was in the making for years.
“We were athletes, and this is how we’re teaching how to do it because we’ve had a lot of experience,” Mile said. “We’ve had personal coaches, junior coaches and college coaches. We’ve focused on this information … and we’re going to try and translate that as best as we can.”
Martin’s dominance at Nebraska gave her the opportunity to be on the U.S. national team and compete around the world. The next logical step was to continue her rifle career through Olympic training.
After graduating from Nebraska in 2017, Martin went to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and began training for international competitions with one goal in mind: making the Olympics in Tokyo.
The Olympic training did not give Martin everything she wanted. Her expectations were to become a much better athlete, but that satisfaction was missing from the constant rifle training in Colorado.
“It really was great in a lot of ways, but I didn’t feel very fulfilled there,” Martin said. “For me, rifle has always been about how it develops you as a person, not just the sport itself, so I wanted to find a way to make that a part of my life.”
Through months of training, Martin grew comfortable in the new reality of rifle: not many competitions and not as much feedback from coaches about issues or improvement.
That type of training did not fit Martin’s style, but new friendships blossomed there. A special relationship grew with Miles, who came to Colorado Springs eight months after Martin did.
When the two were together in Colorado, Martin and Miles experienced the same issues with the center but had valuable learning experiences that they both now use.
“It taught me a lot about listening to myself,” Miles said. “How I needed to develop personally, professionally and listen to my wants … and not only develop as an athlete but other parts [of] myself.”
After one year in Colorado, Martin got her first coaching experience as an assistant coach at Army.
At Army, Martin applied those beliefs of getting athletes to trust themselves more through their training. According to Martin, there is always a reason why mistakes happen, and the key is how the athlete handles them, not if they can correct them.
“There’s always something going on, and before you can understand that, it’s not that you have to fix everything. Nothing’s going to be perfect,” Martin said. “We’ve just really tried to show them that even the best parts of their life [are] going to be full of mistakes.”
The idea of not fixing everything at once was what led Army back to the NCAA Championships in 2019 and then Martin headed back to Nebraska, where she needed one other person.
Miles had recently left the Olympic Training Center and was training in Minnesota for the 2020 Olympics. A couple of text messages and calls later, Miles was heading to Lincoln.
“It was an immediate ‘Heck yeah, but only for you though,’” Miles said. “We very much shared the same values and morals, and that lined up to how we wanted to run the team.”
Now, the two have coached the Huskers to a chance to win a national championship. The two have had growing pains as coaches, and both have split time between coaching and training.
Although Miles did not make it to the final Olympics Trials, she is okay with the fact she did not make the games. At Nebraska, Miles has a role that continues her involvement by helping out the players individually in rifle and in life.
For Martin, coaching was a way to continue her passion for rifle. Nebraska is now in the thick of a championship hunt, and Martin is contending for a spot in Tokyo without mindlessly training all day.