Meet Your Neighbor... Kyle Kutz

Photo of Erin Kayata

DARIEN — 14-year-old Kyle Kutz is so in touch with his body, that he has trained himself to fire rifle shots off between beats of his heart.

Unlike most kids his age in Darien, Kutz isn’t training to be a basketball player or track star. He is a Junior Olympic precision rifle shooter.

Rifle shooting is having a moment thanks to Ginny Thrasher winning the United State’s first gold medal at the summer Olympics for 10 meter air rifle. The sport consists of shooting stationary targets about the size of a pencil eraser from 10 meters away. Shooters wear heavy canvas suits to help steady their limbs. Kutz doesn’t eat sugar and caffeine before competitions because they might up his heart rate and make him jittery, throwing off his shot. His timing is so precise that he’s trained himself to shoot between heartbeats, so he can fire at a time when his body is completely still. It takes eight to nine minutes for shooters to send off 10 shots using a single-shot rifle. The crowds at these events are usually completely quiet, allowing the competitors full concentration.

Kyle got into rifle when he was ten through Sea Cadets, a Navy organization that teaches kids about the military. Many parents would be apprehensive if their child came home and wanted to get involved in shooting. But, his parents said their fears were satisfied the more they learned about the sport.

“We’re very comfortable with it. It’s become a family sport,” said Kyle’s father, Jerry Kutz. “We were nervous going in, but for people who do the sport, safety is absolutely a priority. It’s a paramount concern.”

When Kyle started going to the shooting range after learning about the sport, he was required to go through three pre-training sessions before he could even pick up a rifle. From these, he learned the etiquette and safety measures of shooting.

“When I started, I was first educated in safety until it become second nature,” Kyle said. “Safety is always the first priority and is emphasized in every practice and every competition.”

Since he started shooting, Kyle has been in plenty of competitions at places such as West Point, the Coast Guard Academy, and West Virginia University, the number one ranked school for shooting in the country. He also practices up to four times a week and does a competition a week during both the indoor and outdoor shooting seasons, which last nearly the entire year.

For Kyle, it’s the challenge of improving required that keeps him dedicated to his sport.

“I like to see the results,” he said “When you try it out and you do spectacular, you want to try it again. It’s trial and error.”

He also said he likes the amount of focus required of shooting, making him not only focus on his body, but on his mind as well.

“One of the biggest concepts is the mental aspect. You have to make sure your head and body is in shape for each match,” he said. “It’s very soothing. It calms me down. You can’t think about anything.”

Kyle’s coaches have helped train him both physically and mentally to be in shape for competitions. Not only does he do yoga and other forms of strength training so he can support the weight of the rifle and suit, but he also keeps a log to track the conditions of every competition so he can figure out what does and doesn’t work. So far, he’s found he does well when tired, has had no sugar and thinks of each round as it’s own competition.

“One shot can’t kill the competition,” he explained. “You can only make the rest 10’s. You can always salvage.”

Kyle’s parents feel that the sport suits him and his personality. Driven from a young age, Kyle rode a bike without training wheels at age three and got his black belt when he was eight. It’s this same dedication that they feel has helped him succeed in shooting as well.

“Kyle’s always been an exceptional child,” his mother said. “The sport fits him. When Kyle sets his mind to something, Kyle will follow through.”

And so far, Kyle has followed through. Right now, he practices shooting several times a week at the Cos Cob Revolver Rifle Club in Greenwich, as well at ranges in Niantic and Stratford. He’s a member of the Cos Cob and Niantic junior travel teams and regularly competes at local, state and national levels. Recently, he was in the US Junior Olympics where he won a silver medal and also won medals at both the US and Canada National Championships.

Kyle plans to remain dedicated to shooting as he enters Darien High School as a freshman this fall and he will continue competing in hopes of maybe someday being considered for the 2020 Olympic games. But while the games are a prospect, they are not a given. Kyle prefers to put school first and is looking at civilian and military colleges where he can shoot at the college level.

“I’m not going to drop out of college for the Olympics,” he said, noting a lack of future in the sport as far as careers go.

While shooting is important to him, Kyle has other interests. Though he’s not yet started high school, he has an interest in studying engineering in college. He was involved in Darien Youth Wrestyling and plays trumpet, both things he’d also like to continue in high school. And when he’s not at the shooting range, he enjoys boating and kayaking on the Long Island Sound.

Still, Darien residents should look for him when 2020 rolls around. With several medals from national competitions already under his belt, Kyle already has the dedication and potential to someday be the next Ginny Thrasher. Despite this, he remains humble.

“In my opinion, anyone could be a great athlete,” he said. You just need to put the time and effort down.”; @erin_kayata