Most people would probably associate trap-shooting with a grizzly, flannel-wearing, pick-up truck-driving man’s man. But a 17-year-old, red nail-polish wearing high school girl from Valencia might just have an impact on changing that common misconception. With a top finish in her next competition, she could find herself on the U.S. Olympic trap-shooting team and competing for gold in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Two months ago, Stephanie Gutierrez was one of six Olympic hopefuls to get through the first stage of qualifying in Tucson, Arizona, placing second in her event, and qualifying her for the final round in Tiller, Ark. in May.
Her rise to local and regional trap shooting dominance began at age 11 and with a trip to the shooting range with her father.
“He asked me to go off the bench and try it and I fell in love with it automatically. I was a natural, so I stuck with it,” Gutierrez said.
Over the years, her accolades have amassed: Scholastic Clay Target Program state and national champion two years in a row, two consecutive national championships and three consecutive Junior Olympic national championships.
Her training regime is exhaustive. At least three times a week, Gutierrez makes the 45-mile trek to an El Monte shooting range to use their international trap-shooting machine.
In contrast to the typical American trap field, which consists of a single clay launching machine, the international trap field features a 60-foot ground level bunker with 15 clay throwers.
The result is increased difficulty in both speed and the variety of angles the clay targets travel.
In the days leading up to a competition, Gutierrez arrives several days in advance to get a lay of the land.
“Usually we’ll get there two days before the competition starts. The following day is usually our official training day,” Gutierrez said. “You really get to shoot, dial in your gun and really get to know the bunker.”
When it’s time for her to compete, she performs somewhat of a ritual to get the focus that a good trap shooter relies on to shoot above 90 percent accuracy.
“When the competition starts, it’s like a totally different thing. You’re in your mode. For me, I listen to music and I’m constantly trying to get into my groove,” Gutierrez said. “I’ll sit in the car and just kind of keep to myself.”
The road to the Olympics is not easy and Gutierrez has plenty of challenges that stand in her way.
“The girls that I’m competing against are all older than me. Some of them have been to the Olympics, some of them have been to world championships and I’m just starting out,” Gutierrez said. “It’s like a beginner against someone who has already been there and done that.”
Although Gutierrez’s father has served her well both as her first coach and someone who nurtured her talent, Gutierrez credits two individuals with having the most impact on her success at such a young age, including Charlie Carrol, the father of a competitor.
“I look up to him like a dad and he looks up to me like a daughter.” In addition to Carrol, Gutierrez says the advice she has received from Olympian Kim Rhode has been invaluable.
“She’s helped me with my whole mental game and just getting me there, and really focusing on what I want to do and what I want to accomplish.”
Rhode, six time double trap shooting national champion, is considered by most to be the best female trap shooter in Olympic history, with five medals, three of them gold, and the only woman to ever win two gold medals in double trap.
Aside from Olympic-level instruction, Rhode bestowed onto Gutierrez a 12-gauge, Italian-made, Perrazi mx8 shotgun that has been modified to Gutierrez’s exact specifications.
The brainchild of Ivro Fabbri and Daniel Perazzi, and the shotgun of choice for a large number of professional trap shooters, the mx8 is an all-time classic, according to shotgun critics.
Since its introduction to the trap-shooting scene at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, the Perazzi mx8 has assisted shooters in winning more medals than just about anything else on the market.
“I wouldn’t trade it for any other gun,” Gutierrez said.
The estimated cost of an Olympic caliber Perazzi can run from $30,000 to $40,000.
Luckily for Gutierrez, the gun was a gift from Rhode and supplies like ammo and replacement parts are paid for by her sponsor, Perazzi.
For now, Gutierrez’s shooting career only produces medals and championship titles as compensation for her hard work and talent – No cash.
Big endorsement deals are not given to a trap shooter until they can provide their bonafides, which are usually gold in color and bear the Olympic crest.
In addition to the professionals that have helped Gutierrez hone her talent, she credits the support she has received from her family, friends and school for her rise in the rankings of the nation’s best young trap shooters.
“I think if you want to compete in the Olympics, just never give up…that should be your main goal and your main focus,” she said.
Gutierrez will find out whether or not she is worthy of the Olympic team at her next competition in May, needing a Top 2 finish for a spot on the team.
When she is not competing or training, the Valencia High School honor student likes being outdoors and camping with her family or going to the movies and Mountasia with her friends.
“Trust me, I’m in high school and I want to go do high school things, but at the end of the day, it’s a matter of what you want to accomplish.”