LONDON — Sarah Scherer took a long pause with two shots left in women’s 10-meter air rifle qualifying event. She put her gun down, took a couple of deep breaths, and visualized the perfect release. She wanted confidence in her final shots, to know they were going to hit the center of the target and score 10 points. They did. With the bull’s-eyes, Scherer advanced to a shootoff, then on to a seventh-place finish in Saturday morning’s final at the Royal Artillery Barracks.
Scherer trailed gold medalist Yi Siling of China, as well as teammate Jamie Gray, who came in fifth. When Scherer and Gray advanced to the final, it marked only the second time the United States had placed two shooters in the final of the event, the first coming at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“I wasn’t going to release a shot if it wasn’t going to be a good shot and up to my expectations,” said Scherer.
Setting the highest of expectations, not settling during a shooting match is something Scherer learned from her older brother. Stephen Scherer competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics in 10-meter air rifle. It was Stephen who spotted a roadside sign for the Massachusetts Rifle Association in Woburn, Mass., wrote down the number, and called. He enrolled in the junior program and Sarah soon followed. The siblings shared almost everything growing up in the Boston area, especially a passion for shooting. And they pushed each other to the top levels of the sport.
“He was very much a perfectionist,” said Sarah, 21, who was the youngest woman in the final of a sport that favors experience. “When it came to his shooting, he expected himself to do well every single time. I think that’s something he gave me because he pushed me to expect more out of myself. Because of him, I expect an excellent performance every time.”
Undoubtedly, Stephen would’ve delighted in Sarah’s performance Saturday, especially since she pushed through a badly injured left elbow. But he was not there to witness it.
In October 2010, Stephen died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He did not leave a suicide note.
He was living in an apartment in Fort Worth at the time, not far from his mother and sister. Following Beijing, Stephen stopped competing. He left West Point, where he had earned Rookie of the Year honors with the shooting team, for a new life in Texas. Meanwhile, Sarah had enrolled at Texas Christian University. Soon, Stephen signed up for courses and volunteered as an assistant coach with the TCU women’s rifle team. Stephen and Sarah were, once again, together.
Given that closeness, Sarah struggled with Stephen’s death, especially when she returned to competition in the sport they shared. Now, she carries a part of Stephen with her when she shoots. Her rear iris, a piece of her rifle sight, once belonged to Stephen. But he is a much more constant presence. “He’s part of who I am, so he’s always with me,” said Sarah. On special occasions, she wears a pearl strand Stephen purchased in Beijing.
“It definitely was difficult,” said Sarah. “It was one of those things I couldn’t have done without my family and friends. I knew that I wanted to get back into it because I love this sport and my brother did, too. And we did together. It was something I wanted to continue. I wasn’t going to let that impact me in a negative way. It happened. I know he’s safe now. I know he’s OK. And I’m going to keep on competing because I love it and he loved shooting with me.”
Sarah added: “Because I know my brother was at the Olympics four years ago and I’m following his footsteps, this experience means so much more. Carrying on the work that he accomplished, what he accomplished encourages me every day.”
Stephen finished 27th out of 51 shooters at Beijing, as his mother and sister watched nervously from the stands. Throughout the match Saturday, Sarah knew Stephen was “in heaven watching out for me and really rooting for me.” Her mother, Susan, believes Stephen knows everything Sarah accomplished in her Olympic debut.
“I’ve thought a lot about where he is, secure in heaven,” said Susan. “I miss him. It would have been great to experience this with him and he would have loved to have been here. Of course, it brings back memories. But it’s not like the memories ever left.
“The tears haven’t all been shed. For me, my emotions come out all the time. Many different things bring them on. It’s OK. I just cry in my car, cry in the grocery store, cry in the post office, wherever I feel like crying, I cry because I miss him so much. We were always a very close family. The three of us did everything together.”
Dealing with Stephen’s suicide, Sarah and Susan have relied on their faith. Sarah’s ability to continue shooting and stay committed to her London Olympic goals is testament to her mental toughness. And it’s her mental toughness and her maturity that help make her successful.
“I really expected her to be in the finals because I know how good a shooter she is,” said Sarah’s coach at TCU, Karen Monez. “I know the scores she’s been shooting day in and day out. They are right at that world level. She had the technical skills, the technical ability to shoot the scores needed. She’s been in world-level competition. It’s just hanging in there mentally, having that mental toughness that is also necessary. She has that, especially with all she’s been through.”
And in London, that meant more than just her brother’s death. After the finals, Sarah revealed that she dislocated her left elbow and suffered a radial head fracture two weeks ago. The injury occurred when she slipped at a friend’s cookout. To be ready for the Olympics, she went through intensive physical therapy. She missed 10 days of shooting because of the injury.
“It hurt, but you work through it,” said Sarah.
Postmatch, Sarah was hoping to tour London with her mother, to enjoy her time as an Olympian. She wasn’t too interested in investing the competition with added significance because of what she experienced with her brother in 2008.
“It’s one of the top competitions you’ll ever shoot,” said Sarah. “It’s the pinnacle of athletics. That’s something that stands for itself. It’s just a really cool thing to come here and compete and know you’re at the top of the world. So, it’s something you give your all. Other meanings I’ll figure out maybe later on.”Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.