For the past four years, 14-year-old Alec Patajo has been a fixture at the Paul Bunyan Rifle Club in Puyallup.
That attention to detail perfecting his craft with his .22-caliber rifle has paid off.
Patajo is competing in the Junior Olympic Air Rifle National Championships, which runs through June 28, in Camp Perry, Ohio. Patajo, who also is a member of the West Seattle Totems rifle team, began taking part in shooting lessons in 2010 as a 10-year-old.
“My dad brought me out to some practices,” Patajo said. “At first I didn’t really like it that much, but as I started to get better and better I liked it even more. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my dad.”
Patajo’s father, May, had been a member of the club previously and wanted his son to try out one of his hobbies.
“Alec was in martial arts from the time he was about five years old to when he was 10. Usually they (Paul Bunyan Rifle Club) don’t allow kids to start until they are 12, but Alec was 10 at the time, and I lobbied for them to let my son have a try,” May said. “He’s a disciplined kid. He ended up picking up on it and just kept going and going. He’s got a good attitude and listens. That is so important. He is a hard worker.”
Alec practices five days a week for three hours a day. He splits his time practicing between the West Seattle Totems and the Paul Bunyan Rifle Club. May said his son’s attention to detail and total commitment to the sport is what gives him an edge.
“Shooting is all about focus and determination,” the elder Patajo said. “The thing about shooting is you have to be able to control your body. You have to remain steady and watch your diet. You definitely have to limit the amount of sugar you eat before competitions because you don’t want your pulse getting too fast. Controlling the heart rate and the pulse is important because you have to control the shot the entire way through. These tournaments can last three hours and the rifles are 14 pounds. Competitors are holding it for a long time. It takes a lot of work.”
Alec isn’t intimidated by the competition he will face at the Junior Olympics.
“I’m a little bit nervous but it helps I have gone to previous national events,” he said.
May believes his son has what it takes to reach his immediate goals and long-term aspirations.
“There will be 228 kids there, and his goal is to finish in the top eight,” May said. “Hopefully in two years we will be at the Olympic Trials.”
Physical fitness and training are key components that have led to Alec’s success with his rifle. May makes sure his son is maximizing his abilities.
“Alec works on his core every day and does cardio workouts three days a week,” he said. “In the days before a tournament, you have to watch the sugar and sodium intake. Once he is done competing, then we will go have burgers and donuts. But as it gets close to competition time, we make sure he is eating salads and vegetables.”
Over the past couple of years, the father and son team have established a training routine. Alec’s ability to stick to the routine and apply himself has shown his father that he is mature beyond his years.
“He wants to be in the Olympics in 2016,” May said.
While Alec’s dedication to shooting is intense, May said he is just like any other 14-year-old junior high student.
“When he’s not shooting, and we’re at home we’re not even thinking about the sport,” the father said. “At home it’s all about him being kid, and that means doing his homework, playing games, talking with friends and playing on the computer. He has separated his personal life from the sport, which is good because he won’t burn out.”