If Rachel Gravell had a favourite number, chances are it would be 376. These three digits represent the high score this farmer’s daughter achieved during a recent air pistol shooting competition and were in part the reason why she is representing Wales at the Commonwealth Games.
“Everything came together on that day. I didn’t feel the same level of pressure that I sometimes get in competitions and I think that helped,” she recalls.
Whether calmness is achievable in a competition as prestigious as the Commonwealth Games remains to be seen, but Rachel will be counting on a steady hand and optimum concentration as she vies for a coveted medal in the 10m air pistol shooting event in Delhi.
Rachel grew up on the family dairy farm in Carmarthenshire and it was through her association with Pony Club that her interest in shooting developed.
From the age of 14 she represented her branch at tetrathlon – a combination of riding, shooting, swimming and running – and she joined Carmarthen Shooting Club, where her interest grew.
Her father, David, reckons it was in the year of foot-and-mouth that her love of the sport really blossomed. “The Pony Club couldn’t meet on horseback so Rachel spent more time practising her shooting,” he says.
David created a shooting range in an old farm building and this is where Rachel hones her expertise every weekend when she returns to the farm from London where she works as a physiologist. She is currently combining her job and studying for a Master’s degree with a daily training regime of up to three hours.
With this level of focus and discipline, she is at the pinnacle of her sport. “Mental strength is really important in shooting. You have to be able to concentrate for long periods of time, you can’t lose concentration on the line,” says 23-year-old Rachel.
A sports psychologist helps her to focus and to stay calm. Nerves are to be avoided as any shaking of the hands will affect her aim.
Rachel Gravell has a daily training regime of up to three hours.
Physical fitness is important, too, as is good nutrition. Rachel works out in the gym, concentrating on core strength training, but avoids doing exercises that will make her arms too strong. “The gun has got to feel a bit heavy when I’m shooting to give it balance,” she says.
Rachel’s nutritionist encourages her to eat foods high in beta carotene to maintain good eye health and to avoid foods high in sugar before a competition. “Sugary foods can make you shake before a competition, as can caffeinated drinks,” says Rachel.
A typical pre-competition breakfast is bran flakes and blueberries with an apple to provide Rachel with a pick-me-up just before she shoots.
Over the years the type of gun she uses has changed. She started with a simple Gamo but now uses a more complex Steyr. Safety is paramount. “It is a very strict sport because there are guns involved,” says Rachel. She favours her right eye when she shoots so she wears a pair of goggles with a hood over the left eye.
From the outset, her coach has been John Kelman and she is indebted to him for the part he has played in getting her to this point.
Every time Rachel shoots she is aiming for the ultimate score of 400. She was naturally delighted when she achieved her all-time highest score of 376 at a competition in Bisley in February. This score together with other consistent high tallies achieved in the last 12 months were the reason why the selectors for Wales’ Commonwealth Games included her in the squad.
Rachel’s parents, David and Laura, have always rooted for her. “They have been incredibly supportive; mum would take me to competitions all over the country before I could drive,” she says.
David, who runs a spring-calving dairy herd at Muddlescwm Farm near Kidwelly, is immensely proud of his daughter’s latest achievement. “She has a talent, a gift, and, even though it isn’t the trendiest of sports, she has stuck with it,” he says. “It just shows what can be achieved through application and dedication.”
Welsh team happy with the village
Despite competitors withdrawing from the Commonwealth Games because they were not happy with conditions in the athletes’ village, Rachel Gravell and the rest of Team Wales have adopted a more positive approach. The squad has reassured its supporters by posting images of clean rooms on its official Facebook page.
Posts on the social networking site read: “Our accommodation is really good. We just want all other nations to be as comfortable as we are now.”
And a post on its Twitter page read: “Think we should have packed some more flags – we’re getting more local support than we bargained for.”
This reassurance has come as a relief to Rachel’s family and friends who will be following her progress through television coverage when the event gets underway on 3 October.
Michael Fennell, the Commonwealth Games Federation president, admits there is still “a lot of work” to be done.
“The work that is being done now ought to have been done before, but we are concentrating on how to get things done so athletes can enjoy the best possible conditions when competing at the Games.”
We are very concerned that the effort and momentum of the work will continue and not just until the teams arrive, but throughout the Games.”