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Enkelejda Shehaj: Olympic Dream Rejuvinated


By: Kevin Neuendorf Director of Media & Public Relations


I needed to work on and achieve in order for this dream to repeat itself.” She got that opportunity


LQ KHU À UVW YLVLW WR WKH VWDWHV at 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and shot one point KLJKHU RQO\ WR À QLVK RQH place lower. She also com- SHWHG LQ $LU 3LVWRO À QLVKLQJ 21st.


Shooting pistol has al-


ways come easy to Shehaj. An introverted soul, Shehaj has always enjoyed the individuality of the sport. “You are there alone with your target and you have your thoughts. I grew up not being very social. I don’t talk too much. For me, it was just the thing. I realized what I had to do to get a 10.”


Coming to America,


however, derailed her pas- sion for the better part of nine years. Though she had earned the opportunity to compete for Albania during the 2000 Olympic Games LQ 6\GQH\ 2O\PSLF RIÀ FLDOV there refused her the right WR FRPSHWH DIWHU À QGLQJ out she had immigrated to America.


The disappointment of being passed over has been something not easily erased. It forever fueled a desire to return to competi- tion. But a move to a new


May 2016 | USA Shooting News 43


country and the burdens of life, helped keep her pistol pursuit at bay.


“Being a single mom and


having a daughter to raise, I had to make a living. Shoot- ing was put on the back burner.”


She married again, had


another child, moved to Florida and started a family restaurant business. Little time was left for shooting. Visits to the Taylor (Michi- gan) Pistol Club before her move to Naples, Florida, helped re-introduce her to the sport and it is there where she met fellow USA Shooting Team member Teresa Meyer-Chambers.


Her Olympic dream got re-energized following a trip to the USA Shooting Nation- al Championships in 2008. She earned U.S. citizenship in August 2012, shortly after the London Olympic Games. Her new citizenship brought forth the realization that she could compete fully once again, or as fully as anyone could, considering she was balancing being a mother, a wife and owning her own restaurant. Not to mention the added hurdle that an adequate range didn’t exist at the place she now called home. But as Shehaj states:


´:KHQ \RX À QG VRPHWKLQJ you love to do, you always


À QG WLPH ZKHWKHU LW·V ODWH at night or early in the morn- ing. It’s not easy.”


Shehaj and her husband,


Tony Berkuti, run a restau- rant they’ve named Olympia Dining & Sports Bar. They got into it as a way to make ends meet. Their restaurant is both an ode to past Olym- pic experiences and the ones she had always hoped to make when her dream was cut short. Training time and op-


portunity is less than ideal for an Olympian. With no range nearby, she shoots in a large garage of a family friend who has a 50-foot range in his home. [The Sport Pistol event is shot


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