© Paul Cooper

British-Malawian rifle shooter Ruth Mwandumba discovered she had a talent for shooting whilst in the Army Cadets at the age of 13, but it wasn’t until she joined a shooting club during university in London that she began to take it seriously. At the age of 22 she started competing and within the year was crowned 2018 English Champion. Now, Ruth is part of the GB rifle Talent Academy, competing in Air Rifle and 0.22.

Ruth’s is completely self-funded (hop to it, sponsors!), and when she’s not training, the 25-year-old from Liverpool is studying for a PhD in epidemiology. Below she talks through the basics of shooting, how she trained at home during lockdown, and the mental side of her performance.

© Edwin Raats

Tell us how you first got into rifle shooting?
I was in the army cadets at school between the ages of 13 – 18, and we used to have the opportunity to try out lots of different activities when we went on camps across the country (abseiling, assault courses, helicopter rides, etc.) Shooting was one of the activities that I had the opportunity to try, and I was hooked from the beginning. The style of shooting that I tried there is completely different to the style that I shoot now, but that’s how I first became aware of the sport. That being said, I didn’t actually become competitive in the sport until I turned 22 and bought all of my equipment.

Can you talk us through the sport and what shooting competitively involves?
For the disciplines of rifle that I shoot, competitors shoot at a target from either 10, 25, or 50 metres, and points are awarded for a shot’s proximity to the centre (much like archery!). A score of 10.9 is the highest that one can achieve per shot.

What kind of kit do you need to compete?
My main discipline is Air Rifle, so for that, I require a shooting suit which consists of a made-to-measure jacket and trousers. I also wear a pair of specialised shooting boots and a glove. I also wear a visor and a glove on my trigger hand too, but these are both optional. For my other discipline (Prone), the trousers and boots aren’t required. However, a sling is attached to the jacket which then hooks onto the rifle.

Ruth Mwandumba, English shooting champion. Photo: Paul Cooper

Physically and mentally, what makes a good rifle shooter?
Being calm under pressure definitely makes a good rifle shooter, because once you master the technical skills, it all comes down to mental strength. For air rifle standing, it’s always good to have good core strength as well, as you want to make sure that you are balanced and not swaying each time you are taking a shot.

What does a typical week of training involve for you right now?
The pandemic has meant that my training schedule has had to change a fair bit, mainly due to my local range being closed for a while. Now that ranges are starting to open again with limited access, my training week usually consists of one evening of training at the range, one morning of training at home using an optical training system called SCATT, and the weekends are usually reserved for squad training camps at different locations across the UK. I also have 3-4 physical training sessions throughout the week too.

You mentioned training at home. How hard is it to practise shooting at home?
It was something that I definitely struggled with in the beginning because there are so many factors to think about that you wouldn’t have to consider at a decent shooting range. I had to work hard to make sure I had the right lighting, I had to find an area with a solid floor, and I also had to find an area in my house that was long enough for me to be able to have decent training sessions. It took me a few months before I actually managed to find a spot in the house that successfully incorporated all three of those things. Now, I quite enjoy training at home! I put my rifle into ‘training’ mode though, which means that I don’t do any live-firing of pellets or bullets at home; it’s all dry-firing (simulating).

How important is the mental side of your preparation and training?
A huge part of the sport relies on mental ability and so it’s very important to do mental training in order to succeed. Personally, I struggle a lot with nerves and anxiety on match days, so I am currently working with a sports psychologist on techniques to help manage these issues for when competitions resume. I have also started doing a lot of guided meditation, and I read lots of sports psychology books too.

Inspiring more black athletes to take up shooting is a big goal of yours. Have you seen more BAME athletes enter the sport since you first started?
I think that there is still a lot that can be done with regards to this. I still don’t see much representation of ethnic minorities within the sport since I’ve started, however, I am currently working alongside British Shooting on a few ideas that will hopefully tackle this issue!

In the past you’ve felt the need to wear your British Shooting kit when driving with your rifles in case you get stopped, is that right?
Luckily, this isn’t something that I worry about as much ever since moving back home to Liverpool, however, I was living in London for a while and it was something that made me anxious. Some of my non-shooting friends in London had experienced being stopped whilst in their cars, and it made me worried that the same thing may happen to me, as it’s just not something that you hear about up here in Liverpool. I just wanted to make sure that all bases were covered in case it was something that I ever did have to go through.

What are your future ambitions within target shooting?
Ultimately, I’d like to earn the opportunity to compete in future Olympic Games. However, there are other major competitions that I would like to use as a stepping stone to get to that point: Commonwealth Games, World Championships, European Championships, European Games, and World Cups.

What are your favourite items of kit for shooting and training?
My favourite item of kit is definitely my Walther Air Rifle. It has felt great to shoot with ever since the first day that I bought it, and I’ll most likely stick with that brand for any future rifles that I intend to buy.

Also my mascot, Henry the Hippo, who hangs off my rifle stand during competitions!

Are you sponsored by anyone right now?
I’m not currently sponsored by anyone right now – I’m a completely self-funded athlete. Hopefully, I can gain a couple of sponsors over the next 12 months so I can purchase a new shooting suit and a new rifle for my Prone discipline, as I’m currently borrowing one from my coach.

© James Maguire

You can follow Ruth’s training and shooting via her social media: www.instagram.com/ruthmwandumba, www.facebook.com/ruthmwandumba and www.twitter.com/ruthmwandumba.