Coopersville teen shoots her way into national championships

Krystle Wagner • Apr 13, 2019 at 11:00 AM

COOPERSVILLE — As music played from the radio, Natalie Perrin settled into position, carefully setting her sites on the target, and then pulled the trigger of her air rifle.

For the past year, the Coopersville High School sophomore has been a competitive precision shooter. The 16-year-old is now practicing to compete next week in women’s air rifle and small bore at the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

When Natalie first started the sport, she thought if she worked hard enough maybe she could reach that level in three years, but not one year.

Being the state champion, Natalie knew she would compete in Colorado for the air rifle division, but she was skeptical about her chances of receiving a second-round invitation for the small bore, given her scores.

“It was a very exciting moment,” she said about receiving the invitation.

Nick VanRyswyk, also from Coopersville, and Aliah Lloyd, from Grand Valley State University, will also compete at the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships.

Natalie’s experience in the sport goes back to watching BB gun competitions at the Muskegon County Fair in 2016. That piqued her interest in shooting. Prior to that, she didn’t know anything about guns or the sport, which she said often confuses people.

Her mom, Jocelyn Perrin, said she wasn’t sure how much her daughter would enjoy shooting or if she would continue after she first started in it.

“Come to find out, she’s got a natural talent for it,” Jocelyn said.

Since learning to shoot a BB gun, Natalie became the 4-H champion and moved on to shooting a sporter air rifle. She is member of the Grand Rapids Rifle & Pistol Club and Michigan State University’s Demmer Center’s Junior Shooters.

Cameron Zwart, head coach for Grand Valley State University’s rifle club, met Natalie while helping with the Grand Rapids club, and he invited her to practice precision shooting with his team. Zwart said Natalie had a “strong desire to shoot well,” and learned quickly.

Zwart said it’s “exceptionally rare” for someone shooting in their first year to reach the national level, and it’s a testimony to how hard she works and the time she’s put into it. Zwart said it’s the same for Lloyd, who is also new to the sport.

Individuals who are invited to attend the National Junior Olympics are “shooting at high distinction,” Zwart said.

Zwart noted that Natalie keeps meticulous notes about what works and doesn’t work for her. While some people usually hit a peak, Zwart said Natalie continues to improve.

“The sky’s going to be the limit for this kid,” he said.

In addition to practicing with the GVSU team, Natalie practices shooting with family friend David Smith, who has known the Perrins for more than 20 years. Natalie’s dad, Jeff, cleared part of his paint booth in the family’s barn into an indoor practice space.

Smith said Natalie works to outshoot the last time she shot.

Natalie has participated in competition throughout Michigan, as well as Alabama, Ohio, Tennessee and Kentucky.

During matches, Natalie said she’s usually excited, focused and has a song playing in her head. She said that although everyone is competing, everyone in the sport is willing to help each other.

In addition to shooting, Natalie is an NRA youth shooting sports ambassador and is involved in FFA.

Looking at her future, Natalie plans to continue the sport at the collegiate level. After college, she hopes to become a member of Team USA and compete in the Olympics.

“I just want to continue in this sport and continue to grow,” she said.

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