On target: Columbus student excelling in rifle competitions

Eli Edwards runs track for Columbus East, but he’s not expecting to earn a college scholarship with his legs.

For that, he’s counting on a keen eye and a steady hand.

Edwards, who recently completed his sophomore year at CSA – New Tech High School, has established himself as one of the top young competitive marksmen in the country in both air rifle and high-powered rifle.

He was honored this spring by the National Rifle Association, earning the Distinguished Expert award — the highest level of the Winchester/NRA Marksmanship Qualification program.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Although he has displayed an exceptional talent, Edwards downplays his success, saying that anyone could do the same if he or she were willing to put in the time and remain dedicated.

Not just anyone has that degree of dedication, though. And while hard work certainly plays a part, it’s not as simple as all that.

“There’s definitely a physical aspect to it,” Edwards said. “You have to be physically strong enough to hold the rifle still and control your breathing and control your balance — but there’s also a mental aspect to it, being able to control your heart rate and control your mind and thoughts. And I think it’s the difficulty of it and the complexity of it that really interested me.”

Edwards began shooting air rifle in sixth grade, following the lead of his uncle, Bruce Ziegler, who excelled as a collegiate shooter at Rose-Hulman. He also received plenty of encouragement from his grandfather, Ken Ziegler — as well as his father, Ward Edwards, who was the victim of a March 10 workplace shooting in Seymour.

People handle tragedy in different ways. Rather than walk away from competitive shooting after his father’s death, Edwards has instead become more motivated to excel.

“It’s actually pushed me, because that was something that me and my dad — that was our thing to do together,” he said. “And I want to push myself to do better and improve to make him proud.”

This summer offers a big opportunity to do just that. Now into his outdoor high-powered rifle season, Edwards is looking forward to next month’s National Matches at Camp Perry in Ohio, the world’s largest outdoor rifle range.

That event includes two weeks of matches in two different competitions — the Civilian Marksmanship Program championships and the NRA championships.

“That’s where I’m expecting to do the best,” Edwards said of the NRA matches.

Edwards is going into the National Matches with some momentum. This past weekend, he was the high scoring junior at a match in Cincinnati — a win he was particularly pleased with given the unpleasant weather.

“We actually had rain so strong that we couldn’t see the targets,” he said. “We were trying to figure out where to shoot so we could hit the target.”

After high school, Edwards said his goal is to go to the Air Force Academy and compete for the shooting team there. That goal is well within reach, according to those who have seen him in action.

“He has a great shooting future ahead of him,” said Jerry Thomas of the Hoosier Hills Rifle and Pistol Club.

And at 16, Edwards is just getting started.