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Meet Canada's 17-year-old national women's air rifle champion

Canada’s national women’s air rifle champion is hoping the sport that’s pushed her to becoming the best version of herself increases in popularity among other women and athletes.

The Delaware, Ont. native claimed the 2018 title for the 10 metre smallbore air rifle event in July

Mekenzie Van Bynen, 17, is Canada's national women's air rifle champion for the 10 metre small bore air rifle event. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Canada's national women's air rifle champion is hoping the sport that's pushed her to becoming the best version of herself increases in popularity among other women and athletes.

Seventeen-year-old Mekenzie Van Bynen came out on top last July when she claimed the 2018 championship title for the 10 metre small bore air rifle event.

The Delaware, Ont. native, who identifies as Métis and Ojibway, was first introduced to the shooting sport six years ago through a family member.

The Delaware, Ont. native claimed the 2018 title back in July in Cookstown, Ont. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"It's really given me a guide because it's given me something to work toward. It's given me a goal. It's made me push myself to be the best person I could possibly be, which is the most important thing because it's allowed me to succeed in other areas like school, my future career aspirations and the sport itself," she said.

Van Bynen is a member of the East Elgin Sportsmen's Association in Aylmer, Ont., where she trains twice a week year-round with a one month break. She trains five times a week ahead of a competition.

Point, aim, shoot

Van Bynen already has several wins under her belt including silver and bronze medals in the 2018 Ontario Games.

She's competed all over Canada and more recently in the States including the trials for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Georgia.

Van Bynen has multiple medals during her short career in the sport, including silver and bronze medals at the Ontario Summer Games. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

The sport requires an athlete to aim and shoot at the centre of a digital target no bigger than the palm of your hand. The pellets are about 4.5 millimetres and the actual shot is the size of a pen dot.

"It's all about mental focus. It really is. You have to keep yourself calm so your heart rate stays down," said Van Bynen.

"I like to focus a lot on core strength because it's impeccably important for balance. Leg strength is important as well. I do a lot of stretching because it's very important that our muscles are not tense so we don't pull or strain anything while we're trying to relax," she added.

Van Bynen uses a $3,000 to $4,000 air rifle and  is required to wear a leather and canvas mix suit for protection and flat boots to diminish sway.

Pellets placed on a stand while Van Bynen practices her target shooting. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

When she's done practice, she inserts a plastic bore indicator through the barrel of her rifle to ensure safety.

'Isn't a well-known sport'

The Aylmer gun club was founded in the mid-1950s and it has slowly morphed into becoming one of the largest in the area, said Van Bynen's coach Chris Baldwin.

Baldwin, who's also a three-time men's air rifle champion, said there are about 1,000 members at the club, south of London,. It's also where up to 20 athletes involved with the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) train.

He said the interest in shooting sports has grown "significantly" across Canada, however, "the ability to develop kids and get kids involved in the sport is limited."

The East Elgin Sportsmen's Association in Aylmer, Ont., has about 1,000 members. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

He said many Canadian towns and cities have hockey rinks or sports fields, however, gun clubs aren't as abundant and the funding for them is lacking.

Athletes at the Aylmer gun club receive some grant support from the Quest for Gold Lottery. The majority of its funding comes from members.

Van Bynen is continuing to train while gearing up for post-secondary schooling in September. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

To help increase it's popularity, the 17-year-old hopes more people will give the sport a chance.

"It isn't a well-known sport and I'd really like it to be some day," she said.

In the meantime, she's continuing to train while gearing up for post-secondary schooling in September, when she'll attend Fanshawe College for Police Foundations.