Valley Springs youth shooter Faith Pendergrass is zeroing in on her Olympic dream, one championship title at a time.
The 18-year-old Calaveras High School alumnus spent her summer training and competing with the best, forgoing her graduation ceremony for a competition in Colorado and traveling to Europe in pursuit of her goals. Her dedication paid off, most recently, in a first-place win during the Women’s Trap event at the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) Junior World Cup in Suhl, Germany, on July 15.
“I shot over three days and shot quite well,” said Pendergrass, who also competed alongside her two teammates at the World Championships in Lonato, Italy, securing an individual gold medal and a second-place position on the podium for the U.S. Women’s Junior Trap team shortly before arriving in Suhl. “After 50 shots and a long hour of shooting, I was able to secure the first-place shot, which earned the title of Junior World Champion for the Women’s Division.”
Immediately following the award ceremony, Pendergrass shot once more against the top five winners in her division from past shoots, earning the Super Cup Champion title.
“I got off the range at 9 p.m. after shooting at 7 that morning,” Pendergrass said. That night in Germany, when asked by a reporter how it felt to have such a successful stint in Europe, Pendergrass recalled saying, “It feels great, but I’m hungry.”
Following her return home on July 17, Pendergrass had a bit more to say to the Enterprise.
“It’s surreal. Honestly, that’s the only way I can put it,” she said. “It hasn’t sunk in yet. To say I’m 18 and a world champion is a good reminder that no matter how tired I get at 6 when driving to the range, it is worth it, and it can pay off if you work hard.”
Part of that pay-off was encompassed in Pendergrass’ first trip out of the country – one of many travel opportunities the sport has offered her.
“It was an experience like none other. I’ve always wanted to visit Germany, and it was amazing to finally do so,” said Pendergrass, who found time to explore the area with her family.
Looking ahead, the sharp-shooting teen must maintain her current level of excellence in order to gain a spot on the 2020 Olympic team in Tokyo, as past scores do not contribute to the selection process.
During the first round of Olympic trials, which will take place in Kerrville, Texas, in September, the junior shooter will face off against seasoned athletes like 32-year-old two-time Olympic bronze medalist Corey Cogdell. She’ll then have to do it again at a second trial in order to catch the eye of the coach.
“This presents a challenge for me in that these are athletes that have competed before. They don’t have the nerves and have more ground to stand on,” Pendergrass said. “I do still have to work hard and still have to keep my head on my shoulders and remember that I do have to keep pushing, no matter how tired I get.”
Although Pendergrass maintains a strict practice regimen, commuting to Livermore four times a week, the young jet-setter is enjoying some leisure time before she takes off to “fine tune” her abilities at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. Soon after, she will begin her freshman year at Martin Methodist College in Tennessee, where she received a shooting scholarship.
“My sight is on shooting my personal best and, each day, bettering myself in every way that I can so that, when the day comes, I’m confident in my abilities,” Pendergrass said.
This month, Pendergrass will “graduate” from the Calaveras High Sportsman’s Club alongside several other teammates, some of whom have also been awarded scholarships to continue their passion in college.
“It’s a pretty good thing for our kids,” said Rusty McGhee, owner of Rusty’s Gunsmithing in San Andreas, who has watched many young shooters grow over the years. “It’s not a dead sport that’s of no value. By doing that, they’re gaining access to college and other things.”
Team coordinator for Calaveras High Sportsman’s Club and the Gold Country Shooters youth team Melissa Burdick anticipates Pendergrass – a child of a law enforcement family – will serve as an excellent spokesperson for youth shooters.
“Faith is bringing a lot of attention to shooting sports, and I think that’s phenomenal. Not only is she a fierce competitor, but she is also a great public speaker,” Burdick said. “I think the shooting sports will always have a stigma attached to them until they have more youth talking about the advantages and benefits that they get from these programs.”
According to Burdick, she and her husband, Head Coach Bill Burdick, and the rest of the Calaveras shooting community is “living vicariously” through Pendergrass’ success.
“There are some community members who understand the depth of this accomplishment, but I don’t really think that most do. She is just a few steps away from representing the U.S. in Tokyo. We have this small-town girl getting ready to do fabulous things,” Melissa Burdick said.
During a fundraiser in May, Pendergrass’ family and local team raised nearly $15,000 to pay for the competitor’s travel and other expenses in Europe.
“(We) are so very proud of her and will continue to move Heaven and Earth to make sure she gets all that she needs so she can continue to excel in this program and her sport,” Burdick said.