Kim Rhode: Fighter, champion

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BY STEVE COMUS

Kimberly Rhode is a 6-time Olympic shooting medalist. She is also a plaintiff in the case challenging California’s onerous and unworkable ammo background check law that was recently halted by U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez. Although the judge’s injunction was quickly overturned by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, Rhode and co-plaintiff the California Rifle and Pistol Association will continue the fight until they prevail.

Olympic medalist Kimberly Rhode is as personable as anyone can be. Enveloped within an exterior of style and grace is the heart of both a fighter and a champion. She’s tough as nails but does it with a velvet touch.

Kim is not simply the best in the world. She is the best the world has ever seen.

That’s why I wasn’t a bit surprised when she joined a federal court case over the unconstitutional and unworkable ammunition registry in California. She says what she means and means what she says. She is the kind of person who asks herself: If not me, who? If not now, when?

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Those qualities and more are what impressed me most when I first met her and that have continued to amaze me as the decades go by.

The shooting sports are tightly knit, so when someone comes onto the scene with exceptional ability, word circulates. That’s the way it was roughly 30 years ago when fellow sporting clays shooter Rick Kennerknecht told me about Kim while we were busting clays at Raahauge’s in Norco.

RELATED: Ammo background check thrown out by judge, then reinstated

He put me in touch with Kim’s father Richard. A few days later, Kim, her father, mother Sharon and I met at the Pachmayr shooting facilities in South El Monte.

Kim was 11 then and had been competing in American skeet for about a year at that time. Before she started shooting, the four of us sat in the grass near the skeet fields and talked about Kim, her family and just things in general.

It was then that I learned what great parents Richard and Sharon were and what a stellar family they had created with Kim.

When Kim stepped onto the field, she owned it. Her commanding presence far out-shadowed her diminutive physical stature.

At first, I watched the targets as she hit them, methodically, predictably and squarely. Yes, she was a good shooter.

Then I watched her eye at the moment of the shot. Often a hit or a miss can be told merely by watching the eye at the instant of the shot. She was solid.

As I watched her shoot, my feelings went from being impressed to total awe. There are shooters and then there are shooters. Kim obviously had IT. She wasn’t simply a natural. She was, and still is, gifted.

I watched the way she handled the gun before, during and after shots. Some shooters are mechanical in the way they handle firearms. Kim was fluid in a way that told she truly was one with the gun. It was an extension of her mind as well as of her body.

Following the shooting session in which she didn’t miss a target, the four of us went to an ice cream parlor close by for sundaes and some talk.

Her parents were interested in what I thought about Kim and her shooting. I replied that I felt totally inadequate to evaluate properly what I had just witnessed.

I told them that she seemed strong in every element, but that such a description fell short. There was something different about Kim.

Basically, I told them that if she could stick to it, she had what it takes to go all the way in shooting. What an understatement!

I took some photos and the first article ever written about Kim was published right here in the pages of WON. There have been tens of thousands of articles about her since, but that was the one that started it all.

A year or two later, Kim won her first international championship. From there, she was off to the Olympics and has never looked back.

Over the years, Kim, her parents and I have crossed paths quite a number of times – sometimes at international competitions and other times at events like the annual Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show.

Her father has been her coach all along and the two know each other so well that one or a few words is all he needs to say to put her back on track on those few occasions when she strays.

One of his favorites is simple: “Shoot the target.” I have seen those three little words cause her to go back to the line and hit every target thereafter.

It has become a bit of a joke, in a way. A few years ago at one of the qualification matches, Kim’s timing seemed a little bit off. She was still hitting targets, but not in the way she is capable of doing.

Inquisitively, she looked at her dad when she came off the field – didn’t even have to say anything. “Shoot the target!” Richard sputtered, holding back a chuckle in the process. Kim lit up. That’s all it took. She didn’t miss another target that day.

Through the years, watching her practice or compete has been pure pleasure. At that level, nobody gives any other competitor a break. Every shot counts. Kim has an ability to focus so completely that nothing else matters.

Yet, when Kim is not at a shooting station, she is a different kind of champion – cordial to a fault and always enthusiastic when dealing with fans.

There was a time a few years ago when Kim had just completed a qualification round that put her onto the medal podium. As Kim left the field, a young girl ran up to her. I think the girl had a piece of paper or a hat that she wanted Kim to sign.

Kim not only signed her autograph, but also bent down to the girl’s level and talked to her, personally one-on-one. The girl was elated, but somehow I had the feeling that Kim actually enjoyed the moment at least, if not more, than did the little girl.

That’s who Kim Rhode is. She is genuine, something that comes from a strength of character. Her compass always points in the right direction. These are the kinds of things that are instilled by parents.

In the ensuing years Kim has built a family of her own. She married Mike Harryman and they have one son, Carter.

Yes, Kimberly Rhode is exactly the right person at the right time to join, indeed lead, the battle for individual rights as she is doing in this most recent court case.

Kim is a winner. Winners win. She will be a winner, both for and with all other shooters.

KIMBERLY RHODE’S OLYMPIC ACCOLADES:  Only American to have won six individual medals… Became just the third woman in Olympic history to win medals in six Olympic Games, joining Birgit Schmidt-Fischer (GER/Canoe) and Elisabeta Oleniuc-Lipa (ROM/Rowing). Rhode is now the first American to earn a medal on five different continents.

A sixth consecutive medal ties her with luge great Armin Zöggeler of Italy for most consecutive individual Olympic medals by any Olympian.

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