by Hap Rocketto
Some years ago, when I was a young pup, my National Guard Rifle Team won the US Army Combat Rifle Championships. Each shooter was given a small Blackington medal and a handshake by the general. Back in the barracks, after the awards had been passed out, I was bewailing the fact that our great achievement warranted a much greater token than the medal. Roger McQuiggan, who had taken on the rather difficult job of mentoring me, finally had his fill of my juvenile carping and quietly took me aside. When we were alone he simply tapped the spot on his chest under the top button on his fatigue shirt and said, “Hap, the real trophies are in here.”
While we all love the outward signs of our success symbolized by the medals, trophies, and NRA points that we garner what we really love is the satisfaction of performing well. And, while the applause of our peers is very gratifying, it doesn’t approach the internal glow one gets from pleasing the toughest critic of all-one’s self. Roger’s lesson was neatly driven home to me a little while later in a smallbore match.
I was shooting an NRA 3X40 Sectional at Fort Benning. For a rather new shooter to the All Guard program this was very heady stuff. At that level in the shooting game you have to be careful that the altitude does not get to you. It is the big time and I was well aware of my surroundings. I had shot a 397X400 kneeling and was eagerly awaiting the scores to be posted because I knew the match was mine. As it turned out not only was the match not mine but I didn’t even place! The score was seventh overall. To my surprise Olympian Bill Beard stopped me and complemented me on the score. I replied that it wasn’t that good, it didn’t win anything. He agreed on it not winning anything but he reiterated that it was a good score. He went on to tell me that when you are shooting with the best it is roll of the dice as to who will win.
In fact, the recognition of the performance was a far greater trophy than anything made of wood and metal. The truth of the matter was that score was my personal best and while it was not good enough to win the match it was good enough to help establish myself in the minds of others, and most importantly, in my mind as a contender. If I had won the match I would have expected the comments on the good score and a valuable lesson would have been lost. But, by shooting well and not winning I came to understand what Roger so clearly knew and tried to teach me. We enter competition not to triumph over others but to triumph over ourselves. That is the real victory and that is why the real trophies are of the heart.