I just want to see how far I can go,” says a 15-year-old sophomore at Hamilton High School in Chandler. Hannah Virga contemplates an Olympic medal in the 2016 shooting competition.
Her father and mother, John and Alycia, have mentored her in the sport since she was age 6. That was nine years ago when her older brother’s Christmas present, a .22 rifle, caught her fancy and turned out to be an instrument dreams are made of.
John Virga, a pediatric physical therapist, says, “There was never a question that Hannah was going to take this very seriously and has always demonstrated a mature respect for firearms.” Hannah began official training at age 9, and was on the range at 10, when youngsters are allowed. Now the petite young woman, 88 lbs, barely 4-feet-10, “plus 3/4s inches” (she proudly adds), is competing with college-age shooters.
For a second year, Hannah has competed for a spot on the Olympic team in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center. She was the youngest of the three Arizona shooters invited. Out of 100 contestants in the air rifle division, Hannah placed 50th – last year, she ranked 85th – and is on target to secure a spot in 2016.
Since first holding that .22, Hannah’s determination has not wavered. She now trains at home with her Feinwerkbau air rifle on a Noptel electronic trainer every day, except Sunday. Twice a week, she’s on the shooting range and a regular winner in competitions. So there are no problems, right? Read further.
The scholastic honors student’s championship grit had to be tested. It always does you know, as we see in great novels. At the Olympic Training center this past May, Hannah discovered she would be competing on Sunday.
For the young woman who is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this could be a deal breaker. Hannah’s belief in “keeping the Sabbath Day holy” is an important tenet of her faith.
With a catch in her throat, she knew what she had to do. Hannah would not compete on the Sabbath; her decision. That’s just how it is. What comes to mind is this: How will Hannah make it on an Olympic team without Sunday shooting? Only angels know.
But, we know what happened that weekend. She and her father put in a request to move her competition to Saturday. It would require her to shoot two relays in one day. Her father explains, “Two in one day is equal to running two marathons in a day.” Could Hannah do it? Would she?
Hannah not only succeeded, but her best score was her second relay. And, as we know, that’s what champions do.
The NRA-certified sharpshooter tells of the mental strength required: “It’s more mental than physical.” She says, sometimes her worst shooting days are her best based on what she learns. She’s aware the rigor will aid in her life choices. Her maturity in that regard is in deep contrast to students who choose not to apply themselves.
I asked her about those who seem to squander their high school years. She said, “I really wish they knew who they are – they don’t feel they mean anything to anybody. It’s sad when they feel they have no worth.”
Clearly, Hannah’s use of perseverance to refine her mental strength and achieve her goals, her highs and gratifications, is the raw material for any Olympic champion wanna-be. And, for that matter, a reminder to us all, the possibilities found in Hannah-like determination.
East Valley resident Linda Turley-Hansen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a syndicated columnist and former Phoenix veteran TV anchor.