American Dreamin’: Shehaj Completes Journey to Represent America

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (August 9, 2016)

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images/Jason GetzEnkelejda Shehaj has completed her Olympic return Tuesday, and finished with strength.

Her results won’t make headlines, a 34th-place finish in Sport Pistol today, a 40th-place result Sunday in Air Pistol.  Her comeback story should. 

Born and raised in Albania, Shehaj came to America in 1999 as a 30-year-old looking for better opportunity for her daughter Maggie, who was five at the time.  With her parent’s support, she left behind a husband, a career and the continuance of her Olympic dreams and immigrated to Livonia, Michigan, despite a hatred for cold weather and a greater unknown about what was next.

For sure, the two-time Albanian Olympian (1992 & 1996) felt that she’d never again compete in pistol.  Coming to America, derailed a passion for the sport lasting nine years. Though she had earned the opportunity to compete for Albania during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Olympic officials there refused her the right to compete after finding out she had immigrated to America.

The disappointment of being passed over has been something not easily erased.  It forever fueled a desire to return to competition.  But a move to a new country and the burdens of life, helped keep her pistol pursuit at bay. 

That was until she returned to a range in 2008. Her Olympic dream got re-energized following a trip to the USA Shooting National Championships in 2008.  Earning U.S. citizenship in August 2012, shortly after the London Olympic Games, brought forth the realization that she could compete fully again.  Or as fully as anyone can considering she was balancing being a mother, a wife and owning her own restaurant.  Not to mention the fact that an adequate range doesn’t exist at the place she now calls home in Naples, Florida. 

Earning a trip back to the Olympics to settle an old score and to finish the dream her way didn’t suddenly make life any easier.  But, Shehaj proudly admitted after making the Team in April that being able to compete for her adopted country would make all the sacrifices worthwhile.

So, there she was on the range Tuesday, perhaps for the final time in Olympic competition for the 47-year-old. Just by stepping out there she became only the third woman ever to go 20+ years between Olympic appearances. 

“I was a kid out there,” she said about being back. “It was nothing like this [competing for Albania]. We had four athletes: two shooters, one weightlifting, and one cycling. There was no media. I don’t have a lot of photos. This feels like a whole new Olympics. I’m very honored to represent the United States.” 

As much as she has enjoyed her Olympic experience, she is ready to head back home so she can start cheering on her youngest daughter in volleyball who starts high school this year and be a “volleyball mom” as she says.

2012 Olympic Champion Kim Jangmi of Korea was unable to defend her title and current No.1-ranked Jingjing Zhang of China wouldn’t finish with a medal either despite being two points shy of the world record in qualification. Second-best qualifier Anna Korakaki of Greece, already a bronze medalist in Air Pistol, would claim gold-medal honors.  Greece has two medals thus far in Rio, both owned by Korakaki.  Germany’s Monika Karsch would settle for silver while Heidi Diethelm Gerber of Switzerland earned the bronze medal, claiming the first medal for her country as well.  Through four days of competition, 14 different countries have earned medals in the shooting competition, second only to judo.  In Rio, Shooting is the fourth most participated sport with 97 countries participating.  Athletics is first (201), followed by Swimming (173) and Judo (136). 


Categories: Press Releases