“Everyone can be a shooter,” according to Will Anti, the Paralympic coach and manager for USA Shooting. “Once adaptations are made, shooting is shooting.” Para shooting, or adaptive shooting, is unique because it doesn’t require a significant amount of strength or certain athletic ability.
It is also an equalizing sport for many reasons. Unlike some sports where the barrier to entry is quite high, that is not the case. When shooting with a local program, equipment is typically provided in most cases. At some point, when you get serious at the sport, you can purchase your own pistol, rifle, or other equipment.
In addition, you will also find individuals with physical disabilities training right alongside those without. Furthermore, Anti says there is really no gender advantage in the sport. “A lot of events are mixed on the para side with men and women competing together.”
CHOOSING THE BEST OPTION FOR YOU
The first thing you will want to do is find a club, program, or place where you can practice and has the knowledge and expertise to train you in proper safety as well as proper shooting. USA Shooting, as well as 4-H and other organizations, offer a number of programs to those interested in the sport. Check with your local program to see if an adaptive component is available or if they are willing to start one.
Taylor Farmer, a member of the U.S. National Team, had never shot a firearm until 2012 when she joined her dad at a local range. She went to a junior camp and eventually joined 4-H where she could practice on a regular basis. “What does a young kid know about a firearm?” she said. “It was just fun at that point.” But it was while she was in the 4-H program that Farmer, who has cerebral palsy, set a goal of competing one day in the Paralympics in rifle shooting. She was named to Disabled Sports USA’s E-Team in 2017 and became a member of the National team that same year. In 2018, she moved to the United States Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to train full-time and hopes to represent Team USA at the 2020 Tokyo Games.
In addition to rifle shooting, the other firearm shot as part of Paralympic competition is the pistol. “The one you pick is typically the first one you get introduced to,” Anti said.
A 22-caliber pistol is used for the 25-meter competition, which is broken into two sets. One component is the precision portion, where you must focus on being still, steady, and precise over the course of 30 shots. You are holding the pistol with one hand and any slight movement can impact the results. The rapid-fire portion consists of a set of several shots as well. The gun is down in a certain position and when a light turns green, you have a few seconds to come up, shoot, and bring the gun back down. It is fast, but it is also slow. It takes a lot of coordination and mental focus. There is also a 50-meter category.
The air rifle category has similar distance ranges and categories, including standing, smallbore and prone.
Adaptations can be made within the various athlete classifications. According to Anti, SH1 is for individuals who have mobility in their upper arms and can support the firearm themselves. SH2 is for those with some degree of impairment and additional adaptations available, including a spring stand and loader assist (rifle only). Adaptations impact the spring of the gun.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
Shooters should focus on building their core strength, arm strength, and endurance. But mostly, shooting sports is as much a mental game then a physical one. Warfighter and Paralympian Marco Delarosa started shooting at a VA hospital in 2015 after an injury left him paralyzed. A year later, he made the National Team and had the opportunity to represent Team USA at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. “There is definitely a mental side to shooting,” he said. “Once you are on the line, everything starts hitting you: the guy next to you, scores, noises, the crowd behind you, and the announcer. Sometimes, it starts getting to your head. You have to remember it is just you and the target.”
For Paralympian Trish Downing, shooting is an interesting sport. “With the sports I have done, it has always been about getting hyped up and excited. Shooting is a lot more about being calm, more like meditation. I want to not think about my shots instead of thinking about them. When you start analyzing them, that’s when things go wrong.”
Repetition, repetition, repetition is the name of the game. “The one thing you can count on with any sport is if you work the progression over and over again and put the time, energy, and effort in, you can get there, you can do well,” Downing said. Downing, who shoots pistol, spends a lot of time at the range sitting in front of a target and doing shot after shot after shot. “You are trying to figure a consistent process that you can follow each time to get the results that you are looking for.”
Having a coach is also important. Delarosa, a veteran of the Marine Corps, who is paralyzed from the waist down and shoots pistol, wasn’t coached when he first started out. “I was decent. Now that I’m being coached, it makes me a better shooter.”
THE NEXT LEVEL
For anyone wanting to compete, there are various matches held across the country. Delarosa has participated in the Endeavor Games, Valor Games and other competitions. In addition, all USA Shooting matches have a para component to them. National Team athletes put a minimum of four hours a day, five days a week to train. “The more work you can put in the better,” Farmer said.
WHERE CAN I SHOOT?
To find a list of local shooting clubs or programs, visit usashooting.org.
The pistol is held with one hand. The athlete is standing unless injury has impacted balance, stability or strength in the lower extremities. For those athletes, a wheelchair or other seat may be used, but the athlete may not rest on a table or any other surface to assist in the shot.
- Open and SH1 – The athlete will be seated and may rest both elbows and lean the torso against the bench or a table for stability (see IPC rules). Athletes may use a sling to support the weight of the rifle.
- SH2 – If the athlete is unable to support the rifle due to injury, the rifle will be supported by a spring stand (see IPC rules). The athlete will be seated and may rest both elbows and lean the torso against the table for stability.
- SH3 – In addition to being visually impaired, competitors may be allowed to have adaptations from any of the previous classifications, depending on other existing physical impairments.
- Open – The athlete will be in the standing position (see ISSF rules).
- SH1 – Athletes will rest one elbow on their hip or ribcage to support the weight of the rifle. The athlete may be in the standing position or seated, if required, but may not rest any part of the body or arms against a bench, table, chair or wheelchair.
- SH2 – If the athlete is unable to support the rifle due to injury, the competitor may shoot from a stand, bench or table, and the rifle will be supported by a spring stand that meets IPC rules. The athlete may be standing up or seated (if needed), but may not rest any part of the body or arms against a bench, table, chair or wheelchair (see IPC rules).
Generally, men and women compete together but awards are allowed to be gender based. Pistol matches consist of both Open and SH1 Divisions, shooting 40 shots in a specified period of time, usually 60 minutes. Rifle matches include the participation of all three divisions, shooting from both the “standing” and “prone” positions and consisting of 20 shots from each position. Competitors accumulate a total score from both positions based on the point value of their shots. Although the format of the competition may vary with each venue, the new International Shooting Sports Federation (ISSF) rules recommend a qualification followed by an elimination round. The winner is the competitor who is one of eight highest scorers during the qualification round and shoots the higher scores during the single elimination match. Standard Match: (time limit 60 minutes)
- Pistol (Open & SH1) – 40 shots
- Rifle – Standing (Open, SH1 & SH2) – 20 shots
Elimination Match: (usually more exciting for spectators and experienced shooters and is shot from the “standing” position.)
- Men—60 competition shots in 105 minutes
- Women—40 shots in 75 minutes
- Eight finalists shoot 2, 3 shot series in 150 seconds each
- 14 single shots are each fired on command with 50 seconds for each shot
- Single eliminations start after the second single shot (first six shots in three shot series, then the next 2 single shots fired on command)
- Shooters are eliminated one by one, after every two single shots, until the gold and silver medalists are decided from each division are decided
- Ties between gold and silver are determined by single shots until a winner is determined
CLASSIFICATION *Information provided by World Shooting Para Sport
- Sport Class SH1 (Pistol): This sport class is designated for athletes with upper and/or lower limb impairment for competition in Pistol events.
- Sport Class SH1 (Rifle): This sport class is designated to athletes with lower limb impairment for competition in Rifle events.
- Sport Class SH2 (Rifle): This sport class is for rifle events only, and is designated to athletes with upper limb impairment (which necessitates them to use a shooting stand to support the rifle), all or not in combination with lower limb impairment.
- Sport Class SH-VI (Rifle): This sport class is designated to athletes with a vision impairment for competition in Rifle events.