Olympian Mary Tucker Is Prioritizing Mental Health In Preparation For The Paris Games
by Drew Silverman
On the topic of athletes prioritizing their mental health, U.S. Olympian Mary Tucker certainly is a straight shooter.
Tucker has enjoyed plenty of success in air rifle so far in her promising young career. The 22-year-old has already won an Olympic silver medal at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, recently qualified for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 and has earned more than 20 medals in international competition, including three at the 2023 Pan American Games.
Yet for as hard as Tucker has worked over the years and for as many hours as she has spent on the shooting range, she has also made it clear that protecting and enhancing her mental health is among her biggest priorities.
“Sports psychology is something I talk about a lot with my therapist,” Tucker said. “Shooting is such a mental sport that all of us have things we do (to maintain our mental health). I’m confident in my mentality, but I try to see what different perspectives there are.”
The truth is, Tucker actually has scaled back her workout routine — for mental health reasons, among other motives. Where she used to train six days a week for five or six hours a day, she now will train “only” five days a week for three to four hours a day. But even that regimen rarely materializes due to her strict schedule of international competitions and arduous travel.
As for free time, well, there’s not much of that these days.
“I definitely do (get burnt out),” Tucker admitted, “but I’ve been lucky because I haven’t had a huge burnout. Even now, I’ll take a week off here and there to make sure I don’t burn out.”
Tucker’s low point came when the 2020 NCAA championships were abruptly canceled due to COVID-19 and then, shortly thereafter, the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021. Suddenly, everything she had worked so hard for was put on pause.
“I was like, ‘My life is over. I don’t want to see my guns,’” Tucker recalled. “I remember putting my guns down, and I couldn’t even look at them. I think it took me about 3 ½ months of looking at the guns and opening the case and I was like, ‘No, I can’t do it.’ I closed them. I came back after (the initial COVID break) and then the Olympics were postponed. But I came back from that stronger and more confident and determined to grow through it all.”
As a native of Sarasota, Florida, Tucker has been shooting competitively since she was 16. That said, her story is not a conventional one.
“Most (competitive shooters) start when they’re like 9,” she said. “I was definitely a late bloomer.”
In addition to being a later bloomer, Tucker basically is self-taught. She quit her high school team, bought her own equipment and figured it out from there.
“I watched YouTube videos in a garage and taught myself the basics,” she said, “and then I started going to some competitions.”
Pretty soon, Tucker was competing collegiately for Kentucky and then, more recently, for West Virginia. She now trains with coach Matt Emmons (a four-time U.S. Olympian) in the Czech Republic, where she lives with her boyfriend, Jiri, and her cat, Trigger.
“I’m still a baby in this sport,” Tucker said. “A lot of people have 10 or 15 years of experience. I have six.”
Of course, not everyone’s experience is created equal. After rising from an unknown shooter to a force nationally and internationally, Tucker competed in the Tokyo Games and took home a silver medal in the 10-meter air rifle mixed team event as part of a magical overall experience.
“I thought it was great,” she said. “I’m a little disappointed that we couldn’t go watch other competitions, but I think the overall experience was really great.”
This summer’s Olympics in Paris represents another special opportunity to compete for her nation on the biggest stage possible.
“It means a lot coming to the Games from such a big country,” she said. “We’re kind of the powerhouse of sports, I feel like, because everyone knows the U.S.”
“We always have the best clothes,” she added with a laugh, “so it’s a really big feeling of pride to represent the U.S. Even if people don’t know what our sport is and even if we don’t know them, we’re doing it for everyone.”
With a ton of talent, a terrific work ethic and a healthy mindset, Tucker knows that she’s just getting started. More importantly, she knows the sky is the limit.
“Shooting is really hard on the body, but I want to keep doing it for long as I can keep doing it safely,” said Tucker. “I want to be one of the sport’s legends — and hopefully I can bring shooting to the general public a little bit more. And I want to bring perspectives surrounding mental health and healthy thinking into sports because that is super important too. That’s something I want, because this is a really great sport.”