SPOTLIGHT: Pursuit Of Happiness Year Abroad Leads Dinsmore To Assistant Coaching Position With Rebels
Feb. 12, 2012
By John Holt Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations Graduate Assistant
There are some days in life we quickly try to erase and then there are those we hold onto forever. For Ole Miss assistant rifle coach, Natasha Dinsmore, October 16, 2003, is a day she classifies as unforgettable. While not knowing it at the time, the day would change Dinsmore’s life in ways that she can only smile about today.
IT’S A PROCESS Born and raised in Morgantown, W.Va., until she was 10, Dinsmore then lived in Charlottesville, Va., for one year before moving to State College, Pa., where her mother, Vicki, still resides today.
It was in State College, during seventh grade, where Dinsmore picked up a strong interest in not rifle, but field hockey. Playing for her middle school and high school teams, Dinsmore openly admits she always had a dream to play field hockey at the collegiate level. Yet following her junior season, a once in a lifetime opportunity presented itself and Dinsmore couldn’t turn down.
Vicki informed Natasha about a one-year scholarship exchange program in Germany, called the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange Scholarship. The scholarship was set up after WWII to promote peace between Germany and the United States. Vicki grew up in Germany and had taken Natasha to her native country twice during Natasha’s childhood. Dinsmore, who still has distant relatives living in Germany, became fascinated about everything the country had to offer.
“My mom asked me, how would you like to be an exchange student?” Dinsmore said. “She told me they only give 100 scholarships out across the United States. So I knew it was going to be pretty competitive.”
After advancing throughout the application process, she received a phone call in February and was asked to travel to Harrisburg, Pa., for an in-person interview, in front of nine judges. One month later, Dinsmore’s phone rang again.
“They called me and asked me, how would you like to spend next year in Germany?” Dinsmore said. “I cried, and at that moment was so excited that I was going to be spending a year abroad. Looking back, I had no idea how big of an impact it would have on my life.”
YEAR ABROAD Although she was disappointed she wouldn’t be able to compete with her field hockey teammates her senior year, Dinsmore made the most of winning the prestigious scholarship.
She departed for Vőhringen, Germany in September of 2003 and would live the entire year with a host family. Luckily for Dinsmore, however, her host family had already hosted two students in the past, which made for a smooth transition.
“One of the first things my host family told me was to get integrated in the community,” Dinsmore said.
Unlike a majority of schools in America, schools in Germany didn’t offer clubs, music, sports or theater. If one wanted to participate in such an activity, they would have to join it through the community.
The town of Ulm, which was 17 kilometers away from Vőhringen, had a club where Dinsmore was able to continue playing field hockey twice a week. But it wasn’t the same and didn’t provide her the joy it had when she was performing in the States.
She described her first day of school in Germany as one of the most nervous days she’s ever experienced. Ironically, her first class was German and the teacher made her stand in front of the class and introduce herself.
“I was stumbling with my accent and was really nervous, but I told them I was from America and that I was really excited to be here,” Dinsmore said. “When I got back to my seat, there were like seven notes sitting there.” (Writing notes in class is a popular way of communicating in Germany) One of the notes was from a student named Tobias, who asked Dinsmore what her hobbies were. She responded back writing that she enjoyed playing field hockey. Then after a few more back and forth note exchanges, Dinsmore agreed to go with him the following day (Oct. 16) to a range and shoot.
“He took me to the local shooting club, and I walk in and everyone is wearing these weird suits shooting at these little tiny black dots,” Dinsmore said. “I’m thinking to myself, what is this?”
Dinsmore said she first shot an air pistol, and after basically missing the entire target, elected to attempt to shoot an air rifle instead.
“I thought wow, this is really cool and kind of fun,” Dinsmore said reflecting back to October 16, 2003. “Tobias told me that they practiced every Tuesday and Friday and that I should come back. After that, I never missed a single practice.”
There isn’t one specific thing that Dinsmore said drifted her more in the direction of rifle and less away from field hockey. But she did note that what she loved about rifle from the beginning, was the sport’s aspect of repetition and trying to do the exact same thing every single time.
“I kind of view myself as a perfectionist sometimes,” Dinsmore said. “If I do something, I really want to do it well.”
Less than three months after first picking up an air rifle, Dinsmore participated in her first match. Prior to the match, she set a goal to shoot a 330. By the conclusion of the match, she had eclipsed her goal and finished the day producing a score of 335.
Six months later, in June, she had increased her score 41 more points to a 376.
“I kept calling my mom and dad and telling them, ‘I love this, I love this,”’ Dinsmore said. “When I returned home, I knew I didn’t want to stop shooting.”
RETURNING HOME Dinsmore acknowledges she used to constantly worry about not being able to continue shooting when she reached back to the United States. State College is a town mostly known for Penn State and its storied football program. Hardly anyone knows or pays attention to the sport of rifle.
Yet one person who attended Dinsmore’s high school in State College, recently had committed to shoot for the rifle team at the Naval Academy, for the upcoming fall.
Still in Germany, she decided to contact him to find out where he practiced. Meanwhile around that same time, Dinsmore received a phone call from Juniata College, a Division-III school located in Huntingdon, Pa., that wanted her to play field hockey.
The high school classmate informed her that where he practiced was in a town called Alexandria, Pa., which ironically, happened to be just a few miles from the Juniata campus.
Dinsmore appeared completely set on the idea of attending Juniata, but several weeks passed and the more she thought about it, the more she realized she wanted to compete on a rifling team at the collegiate level.
After hearing what her daughter now had her sights set on, Vicki contacted numerous schools across the country hoping one, would give Natasha a chance to shoot in college.
While several schools began to show interest in Dinsmore, she narrowed her final three choices to Akron, Ohio State and West Virginia.
“It was an extremely difficult decision to make because I was still in Germany at the time,” Dinsmore said. “I was in Germany until mid-July and school started in August.”
There were certain things Dinsmore liked about each school. Ohio State had an outstanding academic reputation; Akron’s coach she simply adored, and West Virginia, not only proved to be where she grew up, but also was where both her parents attended. Better yet, however, the Mountaineers had established themselves as the winningest rifle program in the nation.
“My mom wanted me to go to Ohio State and my dad wanted me to be a Mountaineer,” Dinsmore said. “I went back and forth for a long time between those two schools but finally choose West Virginia.”
TIME IN MORGANTOWN The same year Dinsmore spent in Germany, West Virginia dropped their rifle program. Despite the program having won several national championships, the University, suddenly decided to cut the program. But ultimately through plenty of fundraising, and help from the state, the program was able to return after a one-year absence.
Dinsmore created her presence on the team from day one. Her leadership qualities even guided her to being named a co-captain for the Mountaineers during her senior year.
“She was always very upbeat and motivational,” fellow West Virginia captain and Dinsmore’s former teammate, Lafe Kunkel said. “She was always good in physical conditioning and pushing people and always had a positive attitude about everything.”
Following her freshman season in Morgantown, Dinsmore applied to work over the summer for the Civilian Marksmanship Program. She spent the next four summers working for them, traveling to different states, conducting camps and instructing youth on shooting techniques.
Her hard work and dedication toward the sport didn’t go unnoticed. Less than two years later, she was promoted to assistant director of the Civilian Marksmanship Program summer camps.
During her time as assistant director, Dinsmore connected with Ole Miss head coach, Valerie Boothe, at the USA Shooting Nationals held in Fort Benning, Ga.
Boothe, who had remembered and met Dinsmore from when she was a member of West Virginia’s team, informed her that she was in need of a graduate assistant for the upcoming season.
“I was in graduate school and teaching biology at West Virginia and had a great position there,” Dinsmore said. “Val mentioned to me that I could always transfer. She said ‘you’re getting paid to go to school now and teaching biology. You should come here, go to school, shoot rifles and teach kids how shoot.’ The more I thought about it, the more I thought, why not?”
EVOLUTION TO COACHING Arriving in Oxford in the fall of 2010, Dinsmore served as the team’s graduate assistant during the 2010-11 season, while at the same time she also began working on her second Master’s (this one being in exercise physiology).
Following a successful first year with the program, this past fall Dinsmore became the first full-time assistant coach in the history of Ole Miss rifle.
“If someone would have asked me before I went to Germany what I would be doing in five years, I probably would have told them I was going to medical school,” Dinsmore said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would move to Mississippi and be a rifle coach.”
The most rewarding part of coaching Dinsmore believes, is when an athlete shoots a personal best or the team breaks a school record (the Rebels have already broken three school records this season).
“All the enthusiasm she has about the sport, you can’t help but have it rub off on you,” Kunkel said. “I definitely see her being very good in a leadership position that coaching provides, and keeping people motivated and on track. It doesn’t surprise me at all that this is the path she’s taken.”
Current Rebel senior Keely Stankey added, “She’s brought a lot of knowledge to the sport and is always willing to help us. Even if it’s the best shooter on the team, she still will try to find small things to make your scores that much better.”
Transitioning to assistant coach, Dinsmore concedes that more is expected of her and her role surrounding the team is larger than it was a year ago.
“Val has always trusted my opinion, and we always used to talk about things,” Dinsmore said. “But now being assistant coach, I feel I’m more of her second hand. She’s definitely given me more responsibility.”
On the flipside, Boothe said she and Dinsmore both share a tight connection toward the sport and that bringing Dinsmore on board has been nothing but beneficial.
“She brings a whole different level of energy to our program,” Boothe said. “She’s our first ever assistant coach so she’s definitely set the bar and set the tone for that.”
Thus far in her first season, there have been triumphs and challenges, but Dinsmore’s top goal is to help the Rebels return to the NCAA Tournament. In the history of the program, Ole Miss has only made it once, which happened to be in 2006. In 2008, Dinsmore’s senior year at West Virginia, the Mountaineers made the tournament and placed sixth. The following year after she graduated, they were even better and won the national championship.
Regardless of how the Rebels perform in the upcoming final weeks of the season, it’s evident Dinsmore’s love and passion toward a sport she came to discover in Germany, nearly nine years ago, is something unique, yet also fitting. And at only 25, these days are the ones that Dinsmore truly hopes to hold onto forever.
“My main thing is, all I want in life is to be happy,” she said. “That’s all I want. I think I’ve been blessed because every time I come to a crossroads in my life and I don’t know which way to go something always pops up. Sometimes I get frustrated that I’m not getting to shoot anymore, and it’s hard for me to realize that I’m not an undergrad anymore, and that I’m not on a team, but coaching is really fun. It’s definitely tough sometimes watching those dots pop up on the screen, and they’re not in the place you want. But no matter what, we’re a little shooting family and it’s very special.”
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