Traverse City News: When I first heard of Traverse City's own National Sporting Clays Champion, I didn't expect a name like Annabelle Ayres. The 13-year-old local is claiming her place in what is traditionally a middle-aged and up, male-dominated sport. But the stereotype was silenced last month when Annabelle snagged Lady's First Place in the National Sporting Clays Championship in San Antonio.
Annabelle and her family moved to Northern Michigan from their home in Louisiana last August. Welcoming her to Traverse City, I met with Annabelle at a downtown coffeehouse, ignorantly expecting a camo-geared tomboy. Reality: The slim, fresh-faced blonde was indeed decked in athletic gear, hot pink, that is. We chatted for all of twenty minutes before she confessed her true aspiration in becoming a veterinarian. She shared stories from the championship, the challenges of moving, but most eagerly, a handful of photos of her and her dog.
Q: Let's start from the beginning. What initially sparked your interest in shooting?
A: [Laughs] I didn’t choose shooting. I actually chose fishing at first. Dad told me there was a pond out by the shooting place he was going, and I went along. I was at that pond for about three months, not thinking anything of it. Then one day he just asked, “So you want to try shooting?” He got me a 28 gauge and I started shooting that day. Mom says I was 8 at the time but I’m pretty sure I was 7.
Q: And now you're 13, winning national championships. Tell me about your weekend in San Antonio, did you expect to go home with first place?
A: We were some of the first people out there. I remember hoping I was going to do well when we were driving down the road and I saw all these banners with the sponsors. It was just really cool. I remember thinking, Huh, maybe I can actually win something here. I’ve always wanted to win a national championship. It’s been my goal. And I thought it would take a few years, or maybe even more time… But it's happened!
Q: You're a young woman in a sport of mostly older men. Do you get nervous out there?
A: I don’t really get nervous when there isn’t a crowd. But crowds happen a lot lately. I mean, I don’t want to miss a birdie in front of a lot of people! But at the same time, because I actually won, it feels like people don’t really care if I miss. So I try not to feel bad either. And really, it depends on how good you are. You’ll get a crowd following you around if you have good technique.
Q: I imagine shooting requires tremendous technique; can you tell me more about yours?
A: I feel like I have my own technique. And with that I think I’d really like to coach some day. Yes, my coach teaches me a lot and he’s helped substantially. And I know I’m improving slowly. But I don’t follow his advice all the time. Sometimes I like to figure it out on my own. It’s all mental and I know that I help myself get better when I want to get better.
Q: How do you motivate yourself to do that?
A: I try to see it as something really easy so it never feels like too much to handle. I don’t know if other people see it that way, but I do. I already put a lot of pressure on myself. What I try to live by is train like you’re in second place though you want to be in first. You need to be confident to push yourself. But you also need to be doing what you actually want to do. You can't do something that feels too hard. So if I see it as easy, it’s a fun thing that I want to keep working on. And it works for me.
Q: Apparently so! Did all that pressure roll off when you accepted your championship title?
A: I don’t know, I was just so happy I won. [Eyes suddenly glassy with tears] I don’t know if it was that I got better after moving from Louisiana, or that I wanted to show everyone that I could do it away from home. They always said I wouldn't get better moving away from the best club in the state. I just wanted to show people that I could improve after I left. Now I'm here at Cedar Rod and Gun Club, and they've really helped me to keep improving.
Q: Do you have any special secrets to self-improvement? Perhaps a good luck charm for competitions?
A: Well, I don't wear anything special like a bracelet or anything. But before the first day of nationals, Neil Chadwick, an international referee, came up to my trailer. He knocked on the door and handed me what they call the buck charm. There's different sizes in the Sporting Clays. He gave me a 90 and wished me luck. [Laughing at herself] All I could do was stand there and say "thank you." But I still have it, I packed it with me on the plane and everything.
Q: Speaking of packing, what did you take to wear? Is there a dress code for a Clays Champion?
A: No there’s not really a dress code! Just about everyone wears a hat. And you’ve got to wear your shooting glasses and earplugs for safety. But with all that, I just like my jeans and Sperrys.