The GRIND: Karlyn Walker, North Forsyth High School Raiders rifle team
Karlyn Walker had an idea that she was a good shot. That’s what her grandfather told her, at least.
Walker, a junior at North Forsyth, grew up shooting, whether it was hunting or shooting .22 pistols in the backyard with her grandfather, aiming at bottlecaps about the size of a dime. When she heard that the school had a competitive rifle team, Walker’s next move was obvious.
“It was like ‘Yeah, I want to – I’ve been doing this forever,’” she said.
Walker discovered a sport that was utterly unlike the casual shooting she had done to that point, but also one that quickly became her favorite. And Walker, in just her second year on the team, has become one of the Raiders’ top scorers, regularly leading North in competition, ascending to the level of the best in the state and getting ever closer to the prized 300 score.
“She listens to instructions very well, she’s very focused, and when she’s shooting, all she thinks about is shooting,” Maj. Mac Kelly, the team’s coach, said. “She puts everything else out of her mind.”
Riflery, a GHSA sport, is comprised of co-ed teams, and a competition involves each of a team’s shooter going through three phases: standing, kneeling and prone. Shooters fire air rifles at a target 10 meters away, aiming for a bullseye that’s roughly as big as a No. 2 pencil lead. A shooter gets 10 shots per round, and 10 bullseyes is a perfect score.
Walker has played other sports as well – she did gymnastics growing up and still plays soccer – but shooting has certain qualities that are a natural fit for her introversion. She has a team and a support system, but the sport is ultimately the shooter against the target, at the shooter’s own pace. No cheering is allowed during competitions, and before their rounds, shooters often practice silent visualization.
“I love soccer, but soccer is extremely social,” Walker said. “This is just, getting into your own mindset, get into a laser focus, don’t worry about what (else) is going on here.”
Walker’s love for riflery makes the sacrifices required for the sport more bearable. The practices are at 6:30 in the morning, not including the 20 to 30 minutes of preparation and suiting up required beforehand. Because stability and being in touch with your body is so important, a shooter must keep a stable weight. And added sugars and caffeine are a no-go, because any extra jitters can be the difference between a 7 and a 10.
Walker had some experience doing that already, having given up added sugars for Lent before. But as far as dropping caffeine:
“I’m a southerner,” she said. “I love sweet tea. That was hard.”
Walker has already considerably improved her scores from last year, going from averaging in the 270s and 280s to routinely scoring in the upper 280s and 290s. A 300 – perfect scores in standing, kneeling and prone – feels within her reach, as she’s gotten 100s in each of the stances, just not in sequence.
Riflery is a sport perfectly within Walker’s niche, satisfying both her competitive and solitary sides, and she hopes to continue competing in college. The constant early mornings can still wear on her though, and even Walker, a self-described “morning person,” has days where more sleep looks like a much more appealing option.
That’s where the team comes in, though.
“Without them, I wouldn’t want to get up,” Walker said. “It would be like, ‘No, I’m hitting snooze.’”