A Westminster native and former national amateur trapshooting champion left yesterday for his third Olympic Games, where he hopes to tip the scales in favor of the USA Shooting Team.
But you won't see Robert DuVall on any pedestals accepting medals - he'll be behind the scenes working as the team's physical therapist and trainer, a job that is as rigorous mentally as it is physically.
Olympic shooters compete in 17 events involving pistols and rifles, bull's-eye and clay targets at various distances. Unlike other athletes whose bodies are in constant motion, competitive shooters aim for stillness and consistency. They repeat the same precise motion of lifting 5- to 9-pound guns up to a thousand times during a typical practice session.
Such repetitive movements cause the kind of strain DuVall eases with stretching, strength training and concentration exercises, even ultrasound technology and electrical muscle stimulation.
"Full-time training resulted in movement impairment," said DuVall, who lives in Atlanta and is the founder of the SportsMedicine of Atlanta physical therapy facility. "We recognize this caused different neck and back problems. You would think that shooting would not be that athletic, but the repetitive nature of it results in cumulative trauma."
This year's U.S. team has about 28 men and women competing for 15 medals. At the 2000 games in Sydney, the team won three medals: gold, silver and bronze. However, an improved training regimen and more emphasis on mental concentration are assets the team hopes will bring them more medals.
Fusing his professional expertise with his knowledge of sports, DuVall has created innovations that he hopes will lead toward Olympic success. One example: custom-made foot orthotics - usually plastic pads inserted into shoes - that absorb the impact of the shooter's stance and the recoil from the guns.
The team leaves for another week of training in Germany before its 10-day Olympic competition begins Aug. 13.
One of the shooters on the team said DuVall plays a vital role.
"There could be a lot of tenseness at these events, something you might not be able to get rid of through mental imagery," said Libby Callahan, a retired Washington, D.C., police officer and Upper Marlboro resident. "It's like a healing process."
Callahan is entering her third Olympics on the team as a pistol shooter in the women's division. DuVall also has a lifetime of experience as a shooter.
`I don't forget my roots'
"The preparation from Carroll County is part of this. When I go do this, I don't forget my roots," DuVall said. "I think of professors and coaches in college and high school who have inspired me. My education in Westminster led me to Athens."
DuVall said he started shooting as a child, influenced by his father, an ex-Marine who became a trapshooting champion. At age 12, the younger DuVall won a Carroll County championship in trapshooting, beating 100 other competitors, including adults.
Because of other shooting competitions, he acquired a nickname that would stick with him through the five sports he played at Westminster High School: Claybird.
"He was hard-nosed and disciplined. I'm not surprised at the success he's gotten over the years," said Jim Head, DuVall's former football coach, who retired from the high school in 1992 after 29 years.
DuVall stayed in Westminster to attend Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, where he graduated in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in physical education.
"He wanted to go to physical therapy school, and to do that he took extra courses, went to summer school and worked with physical therapist in his off-time. He really had this as a career goal," said former McDaniel College Provost Sam Case.
Case was DuVall's adviser and coach in wrestling and track and field, and worked for the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1979 as a physiologist. Case said DuVall's athletic background - especially as a shooter - is an asset that gained him instant acceptance with the shooting team.
DuVall left for Emory University immediately after graduating from Western Maryland College and received a master's degree of medical science in physical therapy. In 1984, he founded SportsMedicine of Atlanta. He said about 40 percent of his clients are high school and collegiate athletes.
He also received a doctorate of health science at the University of St. Augustine in Florida in 2001.
Twice a year, DuVall teaches a course at the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science.
DuVall's shooting experience continued throughout his physical therapy practice. He won a national championship in amateur trapshooting in 1992 with a perfect score. He also made it to the Olympic trials in 1996.
Whatever happens this year, DuVall is grateful for his chance to walk with the team during opening ceremonies and during competition.
"This is one of the things you can do, to create an environment to give them the greatest chance to win," DuVall said. "To know you're truly making a contribution to that athlete and are part of the team is significant."