- Associated Press - Saturday, May 9, 2015

PADUCAH, Ky. (AP) - It was only a year and a half ago that 13-year-old Noelle Meals shot her first rifle.

She’d watched her friend, Mallory Thompson, take up the sport of precision shooting in 4H and thought it looked like fun. So one afternoon between dance lessons her father, Mike, took her to the shooting range to give it a try, still dressed in her ballet attire.

Mike was in awe. His daughter wasn’t a good shot, she was a great shot.

“Noelle, when she was dancing, she did OK,” Mike said. “But it frustrated her. She’d be like, I’m not good at anything! I told her, you just haven’t found it yet. About a year and a half later, she goes to the Junior Olympics and she wins a bronze medal for precision shooting.”

Noelle’s dancing days are behind her. Now, it’s all about shooting.

Earlier this month, Noelle was one of two local students to travel to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for the 2015 Junior Olympic Championships. Thompson, a sophomore at McCracken County High School, competed as well, though in a different division than Noelle.

Before making it to Colorado in April, Noelle and Thompson proved themselves in December in regional qualifiers at the University of Kentucky, where the two girls rubbed shoulders with some of the nation’s best collegiate shooters. Junior Olympics shooting competitions include athletes as young as Noelle and as old as 20.

The first day, Noelle shot well. With her Walther LG400 Anatomic Expert Air Rifle (which looks less like a rifle and more like something out of Star Wars, as Noelle puts it), she shot a 399.2 (out of 400).

That means that nearly every time Noelle took a shot at one of her 40 quarter-sized targets from a distance of 10 meters, she hit the “10” at the target’s center. The “10” is about the size of a pin point.

The second day, Noelle had some equipment trouble and it showed in her score - she shot only a 393.9. The stand on which she rested her rifle between shots had begun to slide down, and she didn’t notice the subtle shift until it was too late. It had already affected her shooting significantly.

“That’s why they call it precision shooting,” Noelle said. “You can make micro-movements, and that could change everything.”

Even with her equipment malfunction, Noelle made it to the podium. Largely home-taught and only a year and a half into her training, she brought home an Olympic bronze medal.

Now that Noelle’s back home, back to life in middle school, she’s taking a short break from shooting. No practicing for two whole weeks, she’s been told.

For Noelle, going for two weeks without suiting up in her gear and practicing is tough. It really is fun for her.

“Sometimes I forget I’m shooting an actual gun,” she said. “I think it’s fun, even though when you watch it, it’s about as fun as watching paint dry.”

Mike said the precision shooting culture is unlike that of any sport in which he’s ever taken part. As competitive as it is, most shooters and coaches are pretty open about offering each other help and tips. After matches, competing teams will usually go out to dinner together.

“In shooting, you’re really trying to beat yourself,” Noelle said. “You have your own high scores, and that’s what you’re trying to beat.”

Noelle and Thompson typically practice together in Noelle’s garage two or three times a week for several hours at a time. Along one wall Mike has posted motivational sayings, like “Do the process, and the results will happen.”

He keeps a duck whistle around to quack when one of the girls doesn’t follow through on a shot or makes some other mistake they’re trying to fix. It helps them improve in a way that makes them laugh, he said. As focused and as serious a sport as precision shooting is, he wants to keep it fun for his daughter and Thompson.

“Have I done 10,000 hours yet?” Noelle asked her dad, referring to author Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000-Hour Rule.”

“I’m not sure, but you’ve done over 10,000 shots,” Mike said. “You’ve sure gone through a lot of lead.”


Information from: The Paducah Sun, https://www.paducahsun.com

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide