Year in Review Athlete Feature: James Henderson

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (December 15, 2015)

Sitting in the corner of James Henderson’s Midland, Georgia home there is a large plastic bin filled with shooting trophies.

“These are the ones that made the cut,” he says, nonchalantly, noting he had to “trim the herd” from a room full to a box full from previous move - top honors from interservice and NRA competitions stacked haphazardly collecting dust. He shows off the firearms and knives given to him from family and friends he’s made along his shooting journey with the most pride.

“I’ve never felt like I really do anything special,” he says. “I do what I’m told: Align sights, squeeze the trigger without disturbing the alignment of the sights and that’s what I did. Worked more often than not.”

Throughout his more than 20 years in shooting competitions, Henderson, a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit and USA Shooting’s National Team,  has won the interservice  title eight times, President’s 100 seven times, National Trophy four times - just to name a few of his shooting honors.

“I got into the international thing because I had done everything I could pretty much do in service pistol,” he said. “I wanted to see if I could step up my game to the international level. So far it’s doing okay. I’d like to win something. I’m not doing too badly, but I always think I can be doing better.”

Hendo – as his friends and teammates call him – never grew up shooting. While he was serving in the army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, soldiers were rounded up to compete in a post championship.

“They just came through the barracks and said ‘Everybody get on the bus!’ I went out, shot fairly well, and one of the AMU guys asked if I wanted to shoot NRA Bull’s-eye stuff for the summer and I said ‘Sure, sounds fun,’ and got assigned there the next year. It was totally by accident! I had no idea there was a competitive army team or anything like that.”

Henderson, 48, would then go on to shoot service pistol for 24 years. Eventually he went on to compete at the CISM Military World Games in 2006 and occasionally at the USA Shooting National Championships where would discover international-style shooting.  In 2009, he came in second to Daryl Szarenski at Nationals.

“I was like ‘Oh, that was kind of fun,’ but never took it too seriously though. Then in 2012 I shot Olympic Trials and that was it!” he said. Leading up to the Olympic Games, Henderson no longer shoots the bull’s-eye events, but rather has turned his sole focus to Air and Free Pistol.

His best international finish to date came when he finished just outside of the medals in fourth place in Men’s Free Pistol at World Cup USA in May. His fourth-place finish also garnered the U.S. its lone Olympic quota in the event. But even with more than 20 years of experience in competitive shooting, Henderson is still learning to deal with the competitive pressure.

“I didn’t even know I earned a quota until I sat down [when I was eliminated in fourth place]” he said. “I wasn’t even thinking about it. I went in to the Final fifth and had one of my higher match scores that I’ve had, and during the final I was like ‘I’m not even supposed to be here. Anywhere I go from here is gold.’ No nerves or anything like that until we’re in between shots for fourth place and the announcer says ‘Now we’re shooting for fourth place’ and it was like it hit me! I was like ‘Holy crap! I’m gonna…I’m gonna win a medal!’ and I lost my ever-loving mind!  When they said load, I was cool – no issues – he said ‘start’ and I went to lift the gun up and I swear to you my finger was vibrating. It was like brrrrrrrr, oh my God, what am I going to do?! Just try and shoot the best you can, you’re used to shooting with movement, it’s no big deal, and it just wouldn’t go off. The announcer then said ‘10’ for the time limit and I was like you just ‘gotta make it go off and you can’t do that in Free Pistol - and I shot a 6.4. Having relieved all the stress and anxiety of continuing onto third place, my last shot was a solid 10. O just wished I had done that one the first shot! I wasn’t even thinking about quotas or anything when I sat down next to [National Pistol Coach] Sergey; he was like ‘Good. You shot a decent final, good enough to get you a quota, now you know what it feels like to get a little bloody, so it was a good experience for you.’ It was very cool, actually - even with crashing and burning in the Final.”

“But you know what I learned? That getting nervous is silly. I’ve been successful before and I’ll live to shoot another day, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent. I think a lot of times; people put too much pressure on themselves, because that’s where it all comes from. No one’s standing behind me with a stick or anything and smacking me when I shoot a nine. It was a good learning experience of how putting too much emphasis on the outcome of what I’m doing versus what I’m actually doing. I learned a good hard lesson on paying attention to the process instead of the outcome.”

So what would it mean to him should he earn his first Olympic Team nomination?

“That old guys rule,” he said with a chuckle.  “I mean obviously I’d be happy to go to the Olympics and hopefully carry on that progress to winning a medal, that would be cool, but making the Team is the next hurdle. It’s not really over until I’m standing up there getting that medal around my neck so I’ve gotta keep focused on what I’m doing rather than what-it-means kind of stuff.”