A first-person account from off the beaten track,
as told to Anne Ford.

“My sister and I were attacked when we were teenagers. A guy stopped his car and jumped out and started hitting her. I picked up a tree branch, and I ran over and hit him as hard as I could. She was screaming, and she ran to the house we were in front of. The owner came out with a shotgun. Meanwhile, the attacker let her go, and he came at me for a few steps, but then he ran back in his car. You learn in an instant what you’re going to do. I learned that I’m going to be a fighter. I figure that my personal safety is up to me.

“I started shooting in 2006, and I’d go to the range by myself, because I couldn’t get any of my girlfriends to go with me. I saw a sign that said, ‘Do you want to learn to shoot action pistol?’ I called the guy, and he explained what it was, and I said, ‘I want to do that.’

“I noticed, when I started competing, that I didn’t see any women around. I researched: Where are all these women? Well, they weren’t around Illinois. So I went to Louisiana, and I took a course with some of the top lady shooters. Now I’m competing against them, and they are my friends.

“Action pistol entails drawing a semiautomatic or a revolver from a holster and shooting targets. There could be moving targets, or multiple targets, or maybe you have to run to different positions. Sometimes you have to shoot on the move. It’s very visual, and it’s very exciting. I could travel two hours one way to a competition, and my shooting time will maybe be 100 seconds. But it’s worth it.

“I like a heavy gun. I like the weight of it. Mostly I use a 1911-style handgun. I think it’s beautiful. The 1911 is a model that was designed by John M. Browning, if you’ve heard of Browning shotguns. It’s very mechanical; there’s more to do.

“I run, do stairs, lift weights, to be a better shooter. You could be on the range at a match for eight to ten hours, and the only thing that will stop a match is thunder and lightning. It can rain on you, snow on you, be 100 degrees. If I’m physically fit, it makes me more consistent for the 12 seconds I’m actually shooting. I had Lasik surgery five years ago, and that has helped too.

“I own Excel Training Group in Lemont with my partner Bill Zeller. We teach firearms safety. We have a women’s introduction to handguns and a coed introduction to handguns, among other classes. My goal is to teach people to be safe and responsible gun owners.

“Sometimes we have ladies come to class, and their husband has bought them a gun. Most of the time, I know right away she’s not going to be able to shoot this, because she’s 75 years old and it’s a tiny little Airweight revolver, meaning it’s too hard to handle, too much recoil. The best gun for the situation is the biggest one you can handle safely. The bigger the gun, the easier it is to shoot.”