McKenna (Dahl) Geer’s long wait is almost over, and her rifle sights are trained on more Paralympic medals.
The coronavirus pandemic may have delayed the Lakewood High School graduate’s participation in the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games by a year, throwing her training schedule out of whack and forcing life plans to be altered. But the Games have finally arrived, as they begin Tuesday in Tokyo and run through Sept. 5, and Geer is set to take on the world in three shooting events.
“I don’t know if there are words to describe how excited I am to go,” Geer, who flies to Tokyo on Sunday, said via phone from Fountain, Colorado, where she now resides. “It’s been a long time coming. A lot of friends, family and sponsors pulled together to make this extra year happen, and I’m super appreciative of all the support.”
Geer, 25, made history at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, becoming the first U.S. woman to medal in shooting when she won bronze in 10-meter Air Rifle Prone.
“It was just a huge honor, not only bringing back a bronze for the U.S. and USA Shooting, but I saw the sport grow exponentially here in the U.S. after I brought that medal back,” Geer said. “It’s been really cool to see more athletes with disabilities come out of the woodwork to get involved with the sport.”
This time around Geer, one of seven members of the U.S. shooting contingent for Tokyo, is competing in three events: 10-meter Air Rifle Prone and 10-meter Air Rifle Standing, the two indoor events she competed in at the Rio Paralympics, as well as 50-meter Rifle Prone, which is new to the Paralympics and takes place outdoors.
Geer was born with amyoplasia arthrogryposis, which affected the development of muscles in both her feet and her left hand. Therefore, she competes in a wheelchair. In the prone events she attaches a surface to her wheelchair on which she can brace her arms. In the standing event she removes the surface and shoots without support.
Just how accurate is Geer? In her 10-meter events she aims at a paper target on which the bullseye is the size of the period at the end of this sentence. In the first round of competition shooters take 60 shots. Geer expects to hit the bullseye with all 60 — bonus points are awarded for how centrally the bullseye is hit.
Geer was ready to take those abilities to Tokyo in 2020. The previous year had been a whirlwind. She spent 2019 traveling internationally on a monthly basis, winning gold and silver medals at the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, as well as earning the U.S. a quota spot for the 2020 Paralympics with her performance at the 2019 World Shooting Para Sports Championships in Sydney, Australia. After the season was over she got married to her husband, Daniel, and they moved into a house.
But the pandemic arrived just as preparations for the Paralympics were hitting full speed. The U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where Geer is based, was shuttered from March to September of 2020. The Games were pushed back a year, meaning plans of a possible relocation to Texas and starting a family had to be put on hold.
But it also gave Geer a chance for a breather.
“It was a forced break that I didn’t know I needed,” Geer said. “It was really difficult to work through in the beginning. I was at the peak of competition readiness, and the World Cup was canceled the week before I was supposed to get on a plane. It gave me time to shift my focus a little.”
During the break Geer and her husband worked on their house and adopted a husky. Geer also got a job working as a guest experience team member at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs, an opportunity that probably wouldn’t have presented itself had she been in full training.
“The break gave me more passion and drive for shooting sports and what I wanted to do in Tokyo,” Geer said.
Geer resumed training last September — her first day back happened to coincide with when she would have been competing in Tokyo — and in early July she was officially named to the U.S. team for the Paralympics.
Now Geer is ready — a year later than scheduled — to compete at the highest level once again. So what does she think about her chances of adding to her medal count?
“I’m feeling good about all three this time,” Geer said. “I think all three require different strengths and have different aspects that I enjoy. With where I am in training I think I’ll be proud of my performances in all three.”