Marco DeLaRosaPara ShootingNews

The Marines Set A Foundation For Marco De La Rosa, Who’s Now Headed To His Second Paralympics As A Shooter

by Luke Hanlon

(L-R) Marco De La Rosa and YanXiao Gong pose for a picture together at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 18, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

Marco De La Rosa still remembers the mistake he made that led to him missing the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020. 

Competing in a qualifying event, the Chicago native narrowly missed a spot on the U.S. Paralympic team by beating himself. 

Shooting, there’s a lot of mental to it, and I put a lot of pressure on myself,” De La Rosa recalled in April at the Team USA Media Summit in New York. “We call if forcing the shots. I tried to force it, and I missed it by a few points.”  

That’s a mistake De La Rosa has learned not to repeat. At the 2023 Parapan American Games in Santiago, Chile, he won a silver medal in the P3 mixed sport pistol SH1 and gold in the P3 men’s air pistol SH1. The latter result earned the U.S. a Paralympic quota spot in that event, but De La Rosa still had to earn the trip to Paris for himself at the final stage of the U.S. Paralympic Team Trials – Shooting held April 21-28 in Anniston, Alabama. 

Instead of adding more pressure onto himself, the 52-year-old tries to constantly fill his mind with positive thoughts before an event. Then, when he’s competing, he remains hyper-focused on following the same process for each shot. 

“My process is seven steps, and I have to stick to those seven steps: I can’t think of anything else,” he said. “It’s lifting, sight alignment, bring it down, hold, squeeze.”

De La Rosa followed that process in Alabama to earn a trip to Paris, which will be his second experience at the Games after he made his Paralympic debut at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, where he finished 25th in the P1 men’s air pistol SH1. 

De La Rosa’s proficiency in shooting partially comes from his experience in the U.S. Marine Corps. He joined the miliary after graduating from high school in 1990. By 1993, De La Rosa was stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California when he went to a video store with one of his friends form the base. 

When they got to the store, De La Rosa saw that the cashier — his friend’s girlfriend — was being robbed. Reacting on instinct, he immediately ran into the store to break up the robbery. While he was attacking the robber near the register, an accomplice shot De La Rosa in the lower back, leaving his paralyzed below his waist. 

Marco De La Rosa competes during the men's P1 shooting finals at the Parapan American Games Santiago 2023 on Nov. 19, 2023 in Santiago, Chile. (Photo by Joe Kusumoto)

After being medically discharged from the military and returning to Chicago, De La Rosa said he suffered from severe depression for a few years after the shooting. He spent almost all his money on alcohol and drank nearly every day. 

De La Rosa moved to San Antonio around 2000. Then, in 2014, he went to his local VA for rehab and noticed they had a shooting exhibition set up. He noticed that most of the veterans gravitated toward the air rifles due to their experience with bigger guns from the military. De La Rosa was more interested in the air pistol, though. 

“Because it’s a lot harder,” he said. “Rifle, you can put your elbows in. … A pistol is just one-handed.”

He competed in pistol shooting with four of his friends that day, noting that all five of them “sucked.” They put stakes on the competition, and that heled De La Rosa improve rapidly.

“The loser had to buy everyone coffee,” he said. “That’s $25, so I got good really quickly.”

There is a bit of irony in his choice of sport considering a gun is what paralyzed him. De La Rosa’s mom even asked him once if he was scared off of guns because of what happened to him. De La Rosa simply sees Para shooting as a way to use an elite skill he’s developed. 

“I was good in the Marine Corps. I’m good at it now; I just love it,” he said. “I see it as a sport. It makes me tranquil because I have to really focus.”