Imagine being 19 years old and in a different country, standing on an awards podium flanked by two of the best skeet shooters in the world, watching the American flag rise while the national anthem plays in the background. Pride for your country, your team and yourself all swell inside you.
That's what happened for 2017 Soddy-Daisy High School graduate Eli Christman, who stood with fellow Team USA members Elijah Ellis and Nic Moschetti on the championship podium at the 2017 International Shooting Sport Federation World Championships in Moscow, Russia.
Christman as a teenager accomplished what many shotgun shooters could only dream of doing: representing the United States across the world and bringing home championship hardware.
Being part of the U.S. junior team that earned the bronze medal in Moscow, Christman said, was the most rewarding moment of his already distinguished shooting career. The raw emotions flooding through him were hard to describe.
"I was filled with the most pride when I was in Russia and our country's flag was being raised on the pole, and you got to hear the United States national anthem," he recalled. "There were so many other countries there, but yet ours was the one being played and you were one of the few wearing the colors. It was a very humbling experience."
Christman, who just completed his freshman year at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tennessee, began competitive shooting as a Soddy-Daisy freshman. He has competed in International Skeet for only two years but quickly made a mark in that discipline.
A chance encounter with two-time Olympic gold medalist Vincent Hancock at the 2015 Scholastic Clay Target Program nationals in Sparta, Illinois, inspired him to give International Skeet a try. He now shoots with Hancock on Team USA.
"I was late in the game as far as competition-wise," Christman said. "Most people start when they are a bit younger than I was. I didn't start shooting International Skeet competitively until I was a junior in high school. I was rather old for not knowing what I was doing to begin with, so I had to make a lot of progress."
Christman has earned Team USA status three times now. He first received a nomination for the national team after winning the silver medal at the 2017 National Junior Olympics in Colorado Springs. The same summer he medaled at the Junior Nationals and then made the Junior World Team in 2017.
"(Team USA) was one of the main things I wanted from the very beginning," Christman admitted. "Even in the beginning, I really wanted to be a part of a team to just have that sense of pride in your country. That meant a lot to me."
The camaraderie when the team members shoot together is unlike anything else, he added. And Team USA gives "the opportunity to travel places and shoot tournaments in different places and experiences to help you grow as an athlete," he said.
Christman also devoted time to the nationally prominent Martin Methodist clay target team and to his education. A nursing major, he is determined to be a specialist in the medical field. Even with his extensive travel through the school year, he has maintained a 3.98 GPA. He said that's a challenge, but time management is the key to balancing his activities.
"That's just Eli," said Dylan Owens, a friend and fellow competitor.
Emma Williams, another Martin Methodist and Team USA shooter, has seen firsthand how he has dedicated himself to the sport.
"Eli has improved not only as an athlete, but a person as well, since we began shooting together," Williams said. "He is an outstanding shot and continues to improve and work on himself every day. He always pushes me to do my best and to train as hard as I can. He is one of the hardest-working people that I've met, and that pushes me to work even harder so I can keep up with him."
Said Sydney Carson, another fellow Martin Methodist and Team USA shooter: "Eli is the kind of person who will always help you better yourself. Whether it be in training, competition, school or even just striving to be a better person, he is always setting a great example."
Christman, who uses a Krieghoff K-80 shotgun, trains six days a week for multiple hours to prepare for upcoming tournaments. Putting himself in a tournament mindset, he treats every practice as if he is in final shoot-offs.
"If you can make it into the top six (of a tournament), it pretty much is up to the 60 targets in the finals," he said. "You have 60 targets to make it or break it, so that is what I am focusing on here lately."
Christman will compete in the 2018 World Championships in Changwon, South Korea, in September and in Porpetto, Italy, on the U.S. junior team in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.
"Tokyo 2020 is the goal," he said.
His Martin Methodist coach, Chad Whittenburg, sees that as a real possibility.
"The sky is the limit for this young man. He has the drive, the passion, the resources, the coaching and the environment to achieve any goal he sets," Whittenburg said. "I have no doubt we will see him as an Olympian one day."
Sarah Knapp is a UT-Martin communications major. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.