Olympic dream came early for UAF shooting star

Posted: Wednesday, September 13, 2000

A version of this story originally appeared in September 2000 issue of Alaska Coast Magazine.

Melissa Mulloy had already been attending the University of Alaska Fairbanks for two years last fall when her parents back in Middleton, Mass., decided it was high time to paint her bedroom.

They got the paint, and were ready to cover up the walls Melissa said have been pink since she and her sister, Erin, were kids. Then, Mulloy's parents, Jerry and Susan, looked at the wall above her bed. There, in washable Magic Marker, were 10-inch-high Olympic rings Mulloy had drawn one night when her parents were out of the house in a fit of adolescent rebellion.

"My wife looked at the rings and said, 'You know, it's an Olympic year, maybe we should leave the rings up there,' " Jerry Mulloy said in an early-August telephone interview. "Melissa knew her goals. Since she was a kid she's wanted to live in Alaska and to go to the Olympics."

Mulloy, who will be a senior at UAF this fall, accomplished her first goal when she was recruited by the Nanooks' three-time NCAA champion rifle team. Mulloy accomplished her second goal this week when she arrived in Sydney, Australia, as a member of the U.S. Olympic Team.

Mulloy, 22, qualified for the Olympics in late June and will be one of three U.S. shooters in the three-position, small-bore rifle (.22 caliber) competition. She won the national championship in the air rifle (pellet) competition during that same meet in June, but missed the Olympics in that event by two shots because she trailed in the qualification standings from a previous meet in May.

"I actually forgot about that," Mulloy said during an early-August phone interview when the Olympic rings were mentioned. "My sister drew Snoopy and I put the Olympic rings above my bed. They're still there, but they're faded now. I was probably 15 when I drew them. I guess it was my bold act of rebellion. What was going through my head back then was, 'Mom's going to kill me,' but it was OK and she left them up. My sister and I made sure they would come off before we drew them."

Mulloy's route to the Olympics began when she was about 13 years old, when her father took her and Erin, now 20, to a junior shooting program run by a Massachusetts sports club called Danvers Fish and Game. The program met Friday nights for 10 weeks, and by the time it was over Melissa was hooked on shooting. During her free time, Melissa could be found in her basement dry-firing her unloaded rifle, aiming it at a spot on the wall and holding her shooting position for long times while pulling the trigger.

"She came together real quick," said Jerry Mulloy, a former soldier who was stationed at Anchorage's Fort Richardson during Alaska's 1964 earthquake, before Melissa was born. "After two years she was beating me. We'd compete together on a Friday night, and I was the most important guy in the league because I brought Melissa. She shot the highest scores and set all the handicaps. Needless to say, we won all the time. She was the only one who could shoot higher than the handicaps."

Mulloy also played softball but gave it up as a high school freshman to devote more time to riflery. After the Danvers junior program, Mulloy was spotted by former Olympian John Wolters in a program in Sharon, Mass., south of Boston. Wolters was putting together a state shooting team to compete at Camp Perry in Ohio. Mulloy went to Camp Perry a couple of times, Jerry Mulloy said.

When she graduated from high school, Mulloy was recruited by several colleges. She took a few NCAA-sanctioned recruiting visits to various schools when she was contacted by current UAF athletic director and then-rifle coach Randy Pitney. Mulloy said she told Pitney she wouldn't commit to a school she hadn't visited, so she left Massachusetts on a Tuesday morning to visit UAF and returned on Thursday afternoon telling her father Alaska, "was awesome."

"He'd told me some cool things about what he'd done in Alaska when he'd been up there, but I'd never been there," Mulloy said of her father. "I seriously wanted to come here, but I was not going anywhere I hadn't visited."

Since arriving at UAF, where she's a business major, Mulloy has been one of many excellent shooters on a team that finished second in the nation when she was a freshman and won the NCAA title the last two years.

"Our toughest competition is ourselves," Mulloy said of the Nanooks. "The team, as a whole there are so many great shooters it really can be any one of us on any day. We keep pushing each other. We have to set national records just to set PRs (personal records). We're competitive, but we also help each other out a lot."

Mulloy is the only UAF shooter to qualify for the Olympics, but two of her teammates won NCAA individual titles this year ahead of her. Mulloy took fourth place in the air rifle competitions, with teammate Kelly Mansfield winning the NCAA title and teammate Matt Emmons winning the bronze medal. In the small-bore rifle (.22-caliber) competition, Emmons won the NCAA title and Mulloy won the bronze.

Pitney stepped down as UAF's rifle coach after the Nanooks won their third NCAA title in four years last spring and Dave Johnson was hired as coach. Pitney coached Mulloy during the Olympic Trials, where Mulloy said she thought she only had an outside shot of qualifying.

"I knew I had a shot, but I was all ready to do the summer thing like get a job," Mulloy said. Even after being told she'd made the Olympic team, Mulloy said she waited before calling her parents because she was afraid someone would come up and tell her they made a mistake.

Since earning her spot on the Olympic team, Melissa has been working out with Pitney's wife, Pat Spurgin, who won a gold medal in air rifle at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and remains an assistant rifle coach at UAF. They went to the World Cup in Georgia in July, where Mulloy said she didn't shoot that well (she took 15th place) but learned a lot about staying focused at the higher levels of competition.

"We went in a week earlier because she wanted me to know how to use my time," Mulloy said. "I'll be in Sydney 2 1/2 weeks before I shoot, and I'm used to just cruising in the day before a match then leaving right after. She doesn't want me to go hang around, but to take stuff so I can stay busy. I'll go in and do the same things I always do and get my routine down. There are only three medals, so I'd like to just go in and shoot a personal high."

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