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Drill Team Or Rifle Team? Madison Champion’s Fateful Choice Back In High School Could Lead Her To The Paralympics

by Bob Reinert

Madison Champion poses for a picture at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Brittany Nelson)

When Madison Champion picked up a rifle for the first time in Junior ROTC, she was just trying to skirt around her high school’s physical education requirement.

“I was trying to do everything I could to avoid that,” Champion, who is originally from Greenville, Texas, admitted. “JROTC counted as an athletic credit. I had two options. It was either drill team or the rifle team.

“Keep in mind, I have never shot anything in my life before. This was my first time really handling a firearm.”

Champion, who had suffered a brachial plexus injury during childbirth, has limited movement in her left arm, though she calls it “like a hidden disability.”

“When I meet new people, they don’t know that I have a disability just because I don’t carry myself like I have one,” she said. “I typically don’t ask for help unless I absolutely need it.”

It turned out that she didn’t need much help with a rifle in her hands, either. She soon went on to win gold medals at the USA Shooting National Junior Olympic Championships, break five national records, shoot at the Parapan American Games and the world championships and, most recently, earn a Paralympic quota for the U.S. in the R4 10-meter air rifle standing SH2 event based on her performance at the WSPS World Cup earlier this month in New Delhi.

Now the 22-year-old Champion has her sights set on making Team USA for Paralympic Games Paris 2024. It would mark her Paralympic debut — and her first match would coincide with her 23rd birthday.

“I’m really, really close,” said Champion, who will compete in the third U.S. Paralympic Team Trials on April 21-28 in Anniston and Talladega, Alabama. “We’ll find out then.”

Though she’s still a relative newcomer to the sport, Champion has had to make some big decisions already. Perhaps the biggest was moving away from Greenville for the first time in 2022 to become a resident athlete at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Madison Champion competes during the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Brittany Nelson)

“I’ve worked super-duper hard for this, made a lot of sacrifices,” she said. “Just moving up here in itself was very hard. I had never really moved when I was younger. We’ve always been in the same little hometown.

“I’m a very strong believer in it takes a community. I’ve been very supported by my hometown and my family, but it hasn’t been easy for them, either.”

Champion left behind family, friends and college. She hopes to one day complete her bachelor’s degree in psychology, pursue advanced studies and become a therapist. Shooting is her focus for now, however.

“I really appreciate just having the opportunity to be able to come here and train all the time,” she said. “I was only getting about four hours a week in training (at home). Now, I get around 20, which is a lot better. I’ve made so much progress just being up here, and having higher level coaching, as well.

“It was difficult, and I’ve had to miss a lot just so that I could be here and train, but I’d say it’s worth it just to even have the opportunity to go out there, be on the world stage and maybe inspire other people to go and do the same thing.”

Champion pointed out that no one in her family would have projected her as a future Paralympic athlete while she was growing up.

“This was not something that was in my cards,” she said. “A lot of athletes have been doing this for a lot longer than I have. I am not a very athletic person.

“All because I tried something new, I got to where I am. I just tried one simple thing, and it got me to have this huge opportunity. I really just want to be an inspiration.”

Champion knows that her younger sister will soon turn 11 years old and will travel home to celebrate her birthday.

“Just being able to maybe open other doors that she can walk through that I didn’t get the opportunity to do just means so much to me, as well,” Champion said. “That is super important to me.”