Samantha Simonton, ‘17, better known as Sam, is a world-class competitor and Olympic contender in a sport she helped build at Lakeview.
“I grew up hunting and fishing, but I never really got the whole moving target concept,” wrote Sam by email. “I happened to attend the FFA Wildlife Camp one summer, and that’s when everything clicked. The shooting team started at Lakeview the following year, and it just seemed like it was meant to be.”
Sam played basketball and ran cross country, but the clay target team is where she excelled. She was the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) female state champion all four years of high school.
Mike Lawley, now head of the Lakeview Upper School, was the team’s coach when Sam was a student. Sam recalls his strong leadership and encouragement, even though he was not an expert in the sport. “He had us doing things together as a team and ultimately made the clay target team an experience I will cherish forever,” said Sam.
Sam recalls the influence of other Lakeview teachers.
“Mrs. Beth McElwee was great when it came to life advice and helped me when I was struggling with the decision to move to Colorado or attend the University of Georgia,” said Sam. “Words somehow fall short to express what the late Tammy Skinner meant to me. I was fortunate enough to compete in Egypt this past December and thought about what she taught us in middle school world history and geography. She always impressed on us how important it was to travel and see other cultures.”
Coach Philip Chittaro probably had the biggest impact on Sam’s pursuit of success. “He had me draw a pyramid. At the bottom there was room to write lots of things I was good at, but at the top, there was only room for one thing. I learned there is value in the things you give up to be great. I frequently go back to that pyramid and remember why I’m here – to be an Olympic champion.” Coach Chittaro was “huge on accountability,” Sam added.
Sam did move to Colorado Springs to live at the Olympic and Paralympic Training Center and attend the University of Colorado. She was a resident athlete for four and a half years and was the 2020 Olympic Games first alternate in Women’s International Skeet Shooting. Missing the Olympic team by two points and the COVID pandemic led Sam to re-access her plans.
“A friend put a bug in my ear about joining the Army’s Marksmanship Unit (AMU). It was a difficult decision, but one I’m glad I made,” she said.
Sam’s primary job in the AMU is training and competing. She trains Monday – Friday, 9:00 – 3:00, and works with sports nutritionists, strength and conditioning coaches, and sports psychologists weekly. She also takes classes at Auburn University, where she is finishing her degree in biomedical sciences.
Most recently she was the first female champion of the 2023 Miami Cup sponsored by the Miami International Skeet Shooting Club.
Looking toward the future, Sam says she has the same goals she had in high school – to attend medical school and to be an Olympic gold medalist. “I can’t wait to see what’s next on this adventure!”