Junior Olympian from Lowell competes

LOWELL – One Lowell teen recently had the experience of a lifetime as he traveled to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., to represent Ohio in the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships.

“I was shooting in the Junior Olympics in the rifle competitions, both air rifle and smallbore, which is a .22,” said 16-year-old Michael Steinel.

The competition, which ran April 15-19, gave Steinel the chance to live in the training center for two weeks, walking, dining, training and competing in the same place as some of the world’s most elite athletes.

“We heard that in past years it wasn’t uncommon to look over see someone like Apollo Ono or Michael Phelps,” said Steinel’s father, Scott Steinel, 49, who attended the competition with Michael.

While the Steinels did not chance upon Ono or Phelps, Michael did get the chance to interact with some of his shooting idols.

Former Olympian Lones Wigger, who has one silver and two gold medals, presented the awards for the event, and socialized with the shooters in his free time, said Steinel.

When he needed some sanding work done on his rifle before the event, he had to visit the coach of the Olympic rifle team to get a key to the gun smithing office.

“He said ‘sure’ and then he just walked me up there and sanded it off for me. It was pretty cool,” recalled Steinel.

Steinel qualified for the elite opportunity by finishing first in the state at smallbore shooting at a qualifying match last year at Ohio State University. He competed against 12-20-year-old shooters across Ohio, even beating out college students for the first place spot.

In the Junior Olympics, Steinel competed against students from across the country, including college students from The University of Alaska Fairbanks, North Carolina State, and West Virginia University.

The competitions were grueling, and required some extra preparation, said Scott Steinel.

“We went out a week early to get used to the higher altitude because we had heard it made some kids sort of sick getting used to it,” he said.

They also practiced with different types of ammunition and worked with his breathing, subtle nuances that can affect how well he shoots.

In the end, Steinel placed 19th out of 104 competitors in air rifle. The competition also awards places inside of age brackets. In his 14-18 age group, he placed fifth. In smallbore, he placed 34 out of 71 competitors.

“You’ll get it next year,” Scott said to Michael.

Competing next year is definitely on the bucket list, said Steinel.

“I can’t wait to go back,” he said.

The best part about the trip was getting to meet so many fellow shooters his age. And it probably will not be long until he sees some of them again.

Since returning from the Junior Olympics, Steinel has already placed first in a state shooting competition again, earning him the right to represent Ohio in the NRA National 3 position Air Rifle Competition held in Alabama this summer.

Until then, he has earned a well-deserved break from shooting practices and competitions, said his father.

“Right now, we’re just taking a month off,” he said.

Added Michael with a grin, “Well, maybe a week off.”