September 3, 2017 was one emotional roller coaster of a day for USA Shooting Trap athlete Ashley Carroll.
She had wrapped up competing at the Shotgun World Championship a day prior, securing a sixth place overall finish along with winning a Women’s Trap Team gold medal. She just watched her best friend Derek Haldeman finish in fifth place in his first World Championship appearance as a Trap athlete, and on top of that, learned that the next day they’d be paired together for the World Championship debut of the newly-minted Olympic event: Trap Mixed Team.
“He shot outstanding and I knew how our coaches were putting together the teams―top finisher with top finisher―so I was like, ‘Heck yes! We’re going to be on a team together!’ I was so excited,” Carroll exclaimed. “But I talked to my dad about it because I was super bummed after my performance [in the Women’s Trap Final.] I said, ‘Dad, it’s so hard to not shoot for a day, and then go out there after you’re mentally exhausted from working your butt off for your match! It’s hard to get motivated.’”
Carroll’s dad gave her the same advice that any loving father would share.
“My dad told me, ‘You’ve got to get motivated. This may be the only time anyone will be able to say, I shot a World Championship with my best friend and better half. Who can say that at this moment in time that you’re at a World Championship, you made a Final, you’re shooting outstanding, Derek made a Final, and now you get to shoot together. What better way to finish a World Championship battle then getting to shoot with someone you’re so close to and being able to share that memory for the future?’”
Even under the extreme pressure of a World Championship, Carroll and Haldeman felt like they had won―even before their bronze-medal finish. The duo started dating after meeting at the 2014 Championship of the Americas. This World Championship was the first time they had shot together as a team.
“You would have never known [we were dating], unless you’re around us a lot,” Carroll said. “You’ve got to keep it professional. We’re not there just to hang out; we obviously mean business. It is nice to have someone there to hang out with me though if I’m having a meltdown!”
“I’m not very big on PDA (public displays of affection). Obviously, I love my girlfriend to death, but I don’t like getting too serious. We keep it professional. In the new team event, we had a lot of fun and we’d tease each other, but of course we didn’t want to make it too gross for everyone watching!” Haldeman laughed.
Haldeman, an athlete for the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit, made the switch from his signature event of Double Trap to Trap when his event was removed from the Olympic program.
“People say I made the switch just because of her, which is totally not true,” Haldeman said. “There had been talk of Double Trap going away as an Olympic sport for a while, but when I first heard talk of it going away seriously, I was lucky enough that my coach at the AMU had let me dabble in some Trap matches. When I went to my first match and I came in third place, I thought ‘I can do this, it’s kind of fun.’ I shot both events for a year―shooting Double Trap to make the World Championship Team and I also shot Trap―and then eventually when doubles went away, I had a step up on my Double Trap competitors. Luckily for me it was something different that I really enjoyed and I got to see my girlfriend so that helped!”
Though they met through shooting, the ultra-competitive pair rarely talked about their sport early in the relationship; butting heads on everything from gun fit to hold. “As we’ve dated longer, she’s helped a lot. She’s been shooting it longer than I have and she’s very knowledgeable,” Haldeman said. “I tell her something is going wrong and she tells me what she’s done to fix it in the past. It’s always good to have someone who’s been there, done that to help you out.”
“As a team, I almost have to learn his way of shooting to understand that when he does this, it’s because of this,” Carroll said. “I trained with Derek when he was a Double Trap shooter. I’d go hang out with them on the side and learn their game, and I learned different techniques from them to bring into Trap. At that time, Derek was still playing around with Trap so we used to compete against each other. We compete all the time with each other. It helps a lot now since we’re a team and we’re comfortable competing to combine our scores, but we’re still competing against each other. We’re pushing each other as well as every other team or every other person around us. I don’t want to be beat by these other teams and I definitely don’t want to be beat by him. He’s probably thinking the exact same thing.”
Carroll and Haldeman compete in everything from workouts to card games, but they’ve already learned when to put their competitive natures on hold. During their team match, Carroll struggled on her second round.
“I thought, ‘I just screwed us up with my 22!’ Carroll said. “But he said the perfect thing to me, ‘That’s part of it. When I need you to shoot a 25 and I’m doing a 22, that’s what needs to happen.’ It made me feel better … the fact that he could tell me it was fine and not to worry about it, whereas I already took it personally. That’s one thing that’s nice about us, we push each other, but at the same time, since I had a rough round, he totally took out the competition part of it. He said, ‘We’ll see what happens. If we don’t make it, we don’t make it, but it’s cool that we got to shoot together! I may have beat you this time, but don’t worry about that.’”
Carroll went on to hit more targets than Haldeman in the Final (22 to 19) to help the team secure the bronze medal.
The pair then went on to shoot at the World Cup Final in October in India, the first match where they knew they’d be paired up as a team prior to the event.
“The way the team event goes, it’s still pretty individual,” said Haldeman. “It’s hard to help each other out during the actual competition. She’s going to come down to Fort Benning and work on some stuff and how we can work together and that’s kind of how we’re going to get ready for World Cup Finals. We’re just going to shoot together, have fun with it, and you know, see what happens.”
Carroll and Haldeman once again won the bronze medal at that event the same way they did in Russia, by working together and having a little fun.