ANCHORAGE — On a dreary, drizzly day at the Birchwood Recreation and Shooting Park here, Corey Cogdell is a ray of sunshine, and not just because she's a pretty young woman in a place filled with men.
At first she looks like one of the guys — a shotgun in one hand, a ball cap pulled down tight to keep rain out of her eyes, a vest filled with ammunition.
Look closer, though, and you see the cap says USA. So do the sweatpants and so does the bright red vest.
Keep looking, and you notice that Cogdell seldom misses. She shatters the orange targets with consistency and authority, her motions deliberate and her focus unwavering. A handful of men who are watching beam with pride and affection.
Cogdell, a 21-year-old from Eagle River, Alaska, is making her last visit home before heading to the Summer Olympics in Beijing, and shooters at the range who remember when Cogdell was barely as tall as a shotgun can't wait to cheer the home-grown star once she reaches the biggest stage in sports.
"We started shooting out here around the same time in 2000, and I'm still a D Class shooter and she's the No. 1 lady in the world," said Arnie Grimes, a regular at the shooting range. "We're just damn proud of her. There's not a shooter out here who cannot claim to have not been beaten by her. And they can say it with pride. We've been beaten by the best in the nation."
When Cogdell takes a break, a man walks up to hand her a check for $127 and to wish her luck. The money was collected from members of the Amateur Trapshooting Association, and Cogdell folds it carefully before tucking it into her vest.
In the big picture that is international sport, $127 won't go far — but every penny matters to Cogdell, and the fact the money came from Alaskans makes it matter even more.
Though she had to move out of state to pursue her dream — no ranges in Alaska offer international-style trapshooting — Cogdell remains very much an Alaskan, right down to the duct tape she used to make blinders for her safety glasses.
She's only here for about two weeks, and already she's been bear hunting — she was skunked, but not because her aim was off; she simply didn't spot any black bears. This week's plans include fishing with a friend in Kodiak.
"This is all about me just trying to forget everything for about a week," Cogdell said. "It works about 80 percent of the time. Then I lay my head down on a pillow and it all rushes back."
"It," of course, is the Olympics.
To say the trip to Beijing is the culmination of a dream is to short-change Cogdell's rapid rise in the world of trapshooting.
Though she practically grew up with guns — her family lived in Chickaloon when Cogdell was born, and she was blasting tin cans from 50 yards as a toddler — she only joined the world of international shooting a little more than two years ago.
"2012 was my goal when I started," Cogdell said. "I just took to the game and got pretty good at it right away."
Within eight months, she made the national team. Several months after that, she was invited to live and train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. In her World Cup debut, she astonished everyone by winning a bronze medal for placing third.
Then came a bronze medal at the Pan Am Games a year ago — the closest she's come to something like the Olympics — followed by victory at the Olympic trials in March.
All of a sudden, the dream of 2012 became the reality of 2008.
Cogdell, the lone female member of the U.S. trapshooting team, will travel to Los Angeles on July 27 to meet up with other Olympians. Then she heads to China, where she will walk in the opening ceremonies Aug. 8.
"I can remember walking through the stadium for the opening ceremonies at the Pan Am Games and looking at a teammate and saying, 'Can you imagine how cool the Olympics is gonna be?' I got goose bumps thinking about it," she said.
Once the torch is lit, Cogdell intends to disappear for a couple of days to prepare for her Aug. 11 competition. It's a one-day deal — 75 targets in the preliminaries, followed by a 25-target final round for the six shooters with the best scores during preliminaries.
Cogdell intends to be one of those six.
"I've proven that I'm one of the top competitors in the world," she said. "I've definitely set my sights on a medal."
Cogdell said she qualifies for the finals about 70 percent of the time at international competitions. She was among the top six at a recent World Cup competition in Texas, where she finished sixth overall, but she failed to make it to the finals in her last World Cup event, in Germany.
"We changed some stuff with my stance, and it did not go well," she said. "It was a learning experience."
She'll revert to her old stance for the Olympics, and she'll try to make good use of a poor showing in her final competition before the Olympics. Though it would have been nice to ride a strong World Cup showing into Beijing, she said, the disappointment in Germany "makes you work harder."
For now, though, Cogdell is enjoying a brief respite. A little hunting, a little fishing and a lot of catching up with friends and family in Alaska will ward off, if only temporarily, the pressure that descends on every Olympic athlete.
"I'm not too nervous," she said. "Yet."