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Scherer puts aside grief to compete
Four years ago, Sarah Scherer was at her first Olympics in Beijing, a 17-year-old girl cheering on her brother, who was a member of the American shooting team. Stephen Scherer was disappointed to finish in 27th place in 10-meter air rifle, but still: This was the Olympics. Their whole family, the brother and the sister and the single mother who’d raised them by a thread in North Boston, was in China. No time to mope. They had a ball of a time, and big brother bought little sister a string of pearls.
On Saturday, the 21-year-old Scherer stood inside the indoor shooting range at the Royal Artillery Barracks in London. She was back at the Olympics, the youngest competitor to make the eight-person final round in the same event her brother competed in four years ago. Her mother sat in the stands and prayed that her daughter keep hitting that tiny 10-ring the size of a period that marks the target’s center. Scherer’s left elbow ached from a freak injury two weeks before the Games. Her heart pounded against her vibration-reducing shooters’ uniform as she looked through her sight and fired the tiny pellets at the target.
But something was missing.
Someone was missing, to be specific. That was her big brother, her first shooting coach, the brother who dragged his 9-year-old sister to the shooting range, where they learned to shoot .22 rifles together.
Two years after competing in the Beijing Games, Stephen Scherer – after struggling to adjust to post-Olympic life, after dropping out of West Point, after falling into a tailspin of depression – took out his handgun and killed himself.
One would think that, for Scherer, being at these Olympic Games would trigger a flood of emotions about the Olympics she spent with her late brother. Sure, when Scherer watched highlights of the opening ceremony on television, she couldn’t help but remember watching Beijing’s opening ceremony four years ago. But competing in the Olympics just as her brother did four years ago? In a sport that beckons eerie comparisons for how her brother died? Those were not even near the front of mind.
The front of mind contained only thoughts of London 2012.
“It’s the pinnacle of athletics,” she said Saturday after finishing in seventh place in the finals, short of a medal but impressive for a first Olympics. “That’s something that stands for itself. That’s what the Olympics are. You’re on top of the world, and it’s a really cool feeling. You give it your all. Other meanings and stuff? Maybe I’ll figure out later on. Right now it’s all about competing.”
That’s the thing about shooting sports. It’s all a mind game. It’s a sport for introverts and loners, although the bubbly Scherer is far from a loner. It’s a discipline where you look at a target for hours on end, study every tiny movement in your body, focus on your body’s foundation and bone structure and keeping the whole body rigid. There may be no athlete in the world with more focus than these tunnel-visioned shooters.
So was Scherer or her mother overcome with emotions when the Texas Christian University student was competing in this pinnacle of sport? Not a chance.
"I miss him,” said Scherer’s mother, Sue Scherer. "And it would have been great to experience this with him, and he would have loved to have been here. Of course it brings back memories. But it’s not like the memories have ever left. It’s not really like memories. The way I think about Stephen, it’s all the time anyway, just like you’re standing here with me. It’s not really like distance.”
Mother and daughter believe Stephen is in heaven, and they believe Stephen was watching over his kid sister on Saturday. That gives them peace.
What Scherer spent her competition thinking about wasn’t her brother but instead her elbow. It hurt. Bad. She took a spill off a slippery step at a friend’s barbeque two weeks ago and dislocated and fractured her elbow. She’s been in intensive therapy for eight hours a day, icing and compression and stretching and massage. She was unable to practice until the week before the Olympics. She still has a giant bruise on her arm, but she spoke about going to a different level mentally on the shooting range, using her mind to control her body and vault herself into the finals.
“As a shooter you learn to overcome your adversities,” Scherer said. “It was one of those things where I was going to give it my all, no matter how much it hurt.”
She was talking about recovering from her elbow injury. But she just as easily could have been talking about the grief around the death of her brother, and how sometimes in life you just have to put on your blinders, block out the pain, aim straight ahead and shoot for gold.
You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave, become a fan on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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