Oak Harbor grad, Air Force cadet Chandler is among nation's best marksmen

Tom Chandler, a 2006 graduate of Oak Harbor High School, is becoming one of the most decorated athletes at the United States Air Force Academy.

Not bad for someone who was told more than once he wasn’t talented enough to be a collegiate athlete.

In high school Chandler was a successful marksman for the Oak Harbor NJROTC rifle team with eyes on shooting in college. He applied to the Air Force Academy but was not accepted.

Chandler said he then entered Seattle Pacific University and quit shooting because “many people had told me, while in high school, that I wasn’t good enough to make it to the collegiate shooting level.”

But things changed when he “received a random call in the winter of 2006 from the USAFA rifle team coach” asking him to re-apply “as a recruited athlete.”

With his dream revived, Chandler said he picked up the necessary congressional, senatorial and presidential nominations to re-apply to the Academy as a recruited athlete under the direction of rifle coach Launi Meili, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist in the women’s three-position rifle.

Meili’s belief in Chandler paid off. Chandler, now a junior and finishing up his third year at the Academy, has been named the team’s Most Valuable Player all three years. He is the first cadet in the school’s history from any sport to win three straight MVP awards -- and he still has his senior season ahead.

His list of accomplishments is staggering. Here are some:

• Named first-team collegiate all-American three times.

• Holds 11 Academy records and one NCAA record.

• Ranked No. 3 currently among all collegians.

• Ranked among the top 25 shooters in the world.

• Finished fifth at the USA national championships in December.

• Named athlete of the week at the Academy twice and once by the NCAA rifle committee.

• Chosen team captain his junior year, the first nonsenior in the history of the program to be named captain, a position he will hold again next year.

Chandler has accomplished all this at one of the most demanding academic institutions in the country.

Besides carrying a full academic schedule (21 hours) and meeting the heavy obligations of a varsity sport, cadets must complete their daily military and community service obligations.

Chandler said, “While (the demands) are grueling, they also form a very disciplined citizen...For an athlete, there are no exceptions. We have to do the same amount of class work and homework that regular cadets do. The only difference is that we just pray for an Internet connection when we travel so that we can email our assignments in to our professors by their due date so that we are not hit with a late penalty.

“Many regular students often comment how much respect they have for athletes in general because as they struggle with the challenges facing them daily, they often have a hard time fathoming how much more they would struggle if four to six hours of their day were taken away from their studies to go to practice like we have to.”

Chandler said that being part of a team and serving as its captain has taught him “humility” and a “servant mentality” that helps him focus on the team’s goals before his own.

Chandler is a political science major with a minor in philosophy. He hopes to get a Masters and has been accepted to Georgetown University and will travel to Prague, Czech Republic, this summer to study philosophies of democracy.

He would also like to become a C-17 pilot.

All this, however, may be put on hold. He is currently being considered for the world-class athletic program which allows service men and women to be stationed and serve with the U.S. Olympic development team prior to World Cups, World Championships and the Olympic games.

World class. Olympic games. Lofty words for someone who was labeled “not good enough.”

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