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Dillon man's dream realized with little-known shooting sport
Koby Holland grew up on a ranch southwest of Dillon dreaming about the possibility of someday being part of the U.S. Olympic team. Holland realized that dream this year when he qualified as one of two U.S. competitors in the running target competition. (Perry Backus photos/The Montana Standard)

DILLON — Koby Holland has been getting goose bumps for years whenever he thinks about the

opening ceremony at the Olympics.

For more than a decade, the 29-year-old Holland has been dreaming of the day he'd be part of that entourage following the American flag into the Olympic arena.

This year he'll do just that.

Holland recently qualified for the Athens Olympics in the little-known shooting sport of running target.

It's been a long journey that began years ago with a 4-H event held at the Beaverhead County Fairgrounds in Dillon. Frances and Wally Strodtman of Jackson — both accomplished trap shooters — hosted a camp that gave youngsters a chance to fire air rifles at stationary targets.

Holland shined and was invited to travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., to the Olympic facility there. He had a chance to try a bit of every kind of shooting sport, but it was the challenging running target competition that caught his attention.

In that competition, shooters must bring their rifle to their shoulder, aim, fire and hit a moving target 10 meters away with a bull's eye about the size of a pencil eraser in two and a half seconds during the fast run portion of the competition. They have five seconds to hit the target during the other half.

Since 1991, Holland has been perfecting his aim.

His parents, Chad and Verna, bought a moving target system for him when he was a high school sophomore after he proved he could keep his shots inside the black portion of the target. Every day, he came home and practiced, did his chores and then practiced some more at the family ranch in the Grasshopper Valley.

"He stuck to it," said his mother, Verna. "He'd come home from football or wrestling practice and he'd go downstairs and practice … he worked really hard and it's paid off for him."

"We're just ecstatic," she said.

The Hollands will be staring at the television throughout the Olympics, hoping to catch a glimpse of their son. They considered going to Athens, but "it was just a nightmare trying to find someplace to stay. We told (him) that we'll be watching and supporting him all that we can from here."

That support has come from a lot of folks around Beaverhead County. Holland's employers, R.E. Miller and Sons, have given him time off to pursue his dream. A number of Dillon's businesses are wishing him good luck on their marquees.

"It's been his dream to be part of Olympic team," Verna Holland said. "We've always told our kids to set their goals according to their dreams. You never know when you might be blessed to be able realize your dreams."

When Holland traveled to Georgia for the Olympic Trials a couple of weeks ago, he was the underdog. He wasn't part of the national team and had paid his own way to the event. He'd been practicing at a range in the basement of his brother's home near Dillon.

"Going into the match, I felt very confident. I'd kind of laid low and I wanted to show everyone that I could do it," Holland said. "The tension at the range was very, very high."

While Holland shot very well the first round, others around him started to fall apart. But he'd been there before at other Olympic trials — standing on the precipice and a bad round ruining it all.

"You just really have to focus and stick to your shot plan," he said. "You have to keep your mind closed to anything negative."

Holland said he got some help doing just that from his fiancee, Erika McBride.

"She helped take my mind off the pressure I was facing," he said. "It was nice having her there. It was her first Olympic trials, and she was enjoying it."

After the first day of shooting well, Holland decided he needed to follow the routine that helped get him there.

"If it worked the first day, I wanted to do everything exactly the same," he said.

That meant starting the day out with a bagel and cream cheese, followed by some chocolate milk. After earning a berth at the Olympics, Holland said he'll certainly be looking for chocolate milk in Athens.

"I know it's kind of superstitious, but your mind has a way of playing games with you," he said.

The competition takes place in three events. Shooters first fire at 30 targets moving across the span in five seconds during a 15 minute time span. After that, they shoot 30 targets covering the span in half that time during 12 minutes.

"Holding your focus for that time period is very difficult," Holland said.

Holland guesses there will be about 25 shooters in the Olympic event this August. He'll see many of them this week during a world championship match in Milan, Italy.

This year will probably be the last time the running target event will be part of the Olympics. Holland plans to retire following the Olympics, but it won't be the last time he'll see the men he's competed against for more than a decade.

In less than a month after he returns from the games, Holland will be getting married. His best man will be Adam Saathoff, the other U.S. Olympic running target competitor.

"He's going to be my best man in the wedding," said Holland. "I was his best man at his wedding … I never dreamed that I'd be able to go to the big show with my best friend."

"Winning a medal now would be the ultimate … but I've already decided that my life isn't going to stop if I don't win the gold," he said.

"It would certainly put icing on the cake to bring home the gold," said Holland. "Everyone has a shot at it. I guess in my case, I have 60 shots."

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