Appleseed: From Coast to Coast

Read about the adventures Western Rose experienced as she got to instruct at Appleseed events across the country.

The Little Adventures of Western Rose

 

Earlier this month I was asked to write about my experience traveling (literally) from coast to coast teaching at Project Appleseed events in one year. Though this is mostly about my time back east, I also taught at several events in Washington and Idaho. Thanks go to Gwen for proofreading this!

                                                                                      
 
Appleseed: From Coast to Coast
By Western Rose (age: 19)
Volunteer RWVA Instructor and Administrator
 
 

During the summer of 2011, I was given an adventure like none other—traveling from one side of the United States to the other, teaching fundamental rifle marksmanship and the role it has played in our heritage as…

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Generation HC Member: Leslie Cernik aka Western Rose

“Generation HC,” or the “High Caliber Generation” is what I’ve begun calling young people I’ve come into contact with in the world of shooting sports.  These “kids” are extremely focused, mature, and disciplined – but they have a lot of fun, as well.

The first Gen HC member I reported on was “Allie Cat” Barrett, and you can read that interview here.  Allie is a member of the fast-growing sport of practical pistol shooting (and I hope to talk her into writing a detailed description of her favorite sport for me soon), but we are about to turn 180 degrees and talk with a young woman that is a Project Appleseed rifle instructor – at the ripe old age of 18. 🙂

Leslie Cernik of Idaho, aka Western Rose, is an amazing young woman whose dad taught her to shoot a rifle at an early age, and who actually became a Revolutionary War Veterans Association Instructor and Range Safety Officer at the age of 16.

As Leslie says of her early days, “My Dad started to teach each of us to shoot as soon as we could tell him, from memory, Cooper’s four safety rules.  He started us out with a small .22 pistol.  When we were big enough, Dad would put us behind a Marlin Model 60 .22 rifle with iron sights and the use of a big log as a rest.”

She explains her introduction to the Appleseed organization by saying, “When I was 12 or 13 my Dad asked if I would like to go with him to something called ‘Project Appleseed.’  I had no idea what it was, other than I would be shooting all weekend with my Dad.  That sounded like fun, so off we went.

I learned the Steady Hold Factors of prone, sitting, and standing; I found out the great secret of needing to find your Natural Point Of Aim; I was taught the Six Steps of Firing a Shot; and on top of all that, just when I needed a break, the instructors would tell history.

I have always liked to read, but have never been good at remembering dates, events, names…until that weekend.  I learned SO much [Revolutionary War history] that I wouldn’t have learned any other way.  The instructors were definitely welcoming to me, even though I was, by far, the youngest attendee AND the only girl on the line…not  to mention the only .22 shooter.

At the end of the weekend, I left with a smile, new friends, and the high score of my family (a 198 of 250).  That was my first experience with any kind of organized shooting event and I loved it.”

Leslie said the ratio of men-women-children on an Appleseed line has changed drastically over the years and now entire families are signing up for the events.  And if you are unfamiliar with Project Appleseed, this is an organization that teaches rifle marksmanship and the importance of the American Revolutionary rifleman to the freedoms we enjoy today.  All levels are welcome at these very inexpensive events, from beginner to expert, and those who excel at the course may earn their Rifleman patch.

Leslie is not only an Appleseed instructor, she is also a homeschooling high school senior, as well as a college freshman, a writer, a horsewoman, photographer, blogger, and much more.  Her Appleseed involvement has even moved beyond the shooting line, and into administration of the organization.

I asked Leslie some questions about her shooting and will let her speak for herself:

Q.  What three life lessons have you learned from shooting?

A.  “Shooting has taught me persistence, confidence, and how to relax.  Seriously.  Persistence is on that list because it’s not always easy.  You have to work through the        problems and find a solution.  You can’t give up.  That’s something that easily transfers into everyday life (and school work!).

Confidence is listed because when you go from not doing so well, to achieving a goal, it will boost your confidence to know that you can work through this issue, that persistence will pay off.  Plus, there is nothing like the feeling of confidence when you get down behind a rifle, see a target, and know you can hit it.  You realize you aren’t helpless.

How to relax is another thing that I’ve found particularly helpful.  I used to tense up when I was shooting, so for me, learning to relax in a tense situation is very useful, and not only in shooting.”

Q.  How has shooting played a part in how you relate to your peers?

A.  “Presently, a lot of my peers aren’t super interested in shooting or history.  That has been troubling, but I still definitely enjoy my time with them.  Maybe someday they’ll come along with me to a Project Appleseed event and realize that this is THEIR heritage.  I have found that I definitely don’t ‘fit’ in just one age group.  I thoroughly enjoy learning from those who are older than myself, and then taking what I learn and teaching it to others.”

Q.  What is your favorite firearm?

A.  “My favorite firearm would definitely be a rifle.  I REALLY like the M1 Garand.  That would be my favorite specific rifle, but I do enjoy shooting the M1A, AR, and the .22s, as well.”

Q.  How has your schooling affected your shooting “career,” or vice versa?

A.  “Being homeschooled, I was hardly ever put in a classroom with a bunch of kids my age.  That made me learn to communicate with both adults and kids.  I have found that learning isn’t just in the classroom; it’s all the time.  In shooting, I’m with people who are anywhere from 13 years younger than myself, to 60+ years older.  I have a lot of fun being with folks that are older than myself and learning from them, so it works out well.  Also, it gives me an appreciation for the wisdom of the gray head – ok, you don’t actually have to be going gray to be wise” 🙂

Q.  What is it like to compete (and win) against people older than yourself?

A.  “Competing has always been somewhat hard for me, in that I tense up (good thing I’ve learned to relax!)  Now I enjoy competing with folks of all ages.  I now know that if I lose I’ll be learning more, and I’ll come back to try again and again until I win.  Winning is exhilarating and continues to build my confidence.”

Q.  What would you like to tell new shooters – young people that are just getting interested in shooting?

A.  “I think I would tell new shooters that it is a lifetime of fun.  Shooting is a journey, where people will come alongside you, help you along the way, and before you know it, you’ll be helping others who are newer to shooting than you are.  You will learn more than you can even imagine – and shooting a .22 doesn’t hurt.  Take that first step, come on out, and enjoy it!”

Q.  How do you see yourself involved in shooting 20 years from now?

A.  “In 20 years, I hope that I will still be teaching others how to shoot, and telling others about our mutual heritage.  I also hope that I will have been able to shoot a perfect score on the AQT (Army Qualification Test).  I would like to learn more pistol shooting and maybe shoot in competitions (both rifle and pistol) sometime.”

Of her role as instructor, Leslie said, “Instructing has helped me grow significantly as a person.  The first time I talked in front of a crowd, I was 16 and there were 72 attendees and 6-8 instructors.  I was honestly freaked out about the idea of talking in front of a group.  Talking to a small group of friends was hard enough, but now I was talking to folks that, for the most part, I’ve never met before.

The other instructors, all quite a bit older than myself, really helped me work through being scared and getting up in front of people, despite my fear.  I didn’t have the confidence that I wouldn’t really mess up, but I knew that if I did, the other instructors would pick me up and help me along.

My ‘trail’ hasn’t been the adventure of one person, it’s been the adventure of many.  People from all over this nation have come alongside me, picked me up when I failed, guided me and taught me.  I continue to be taught by them, and many more have become my teachers, friends, and family over the last couple of years.  Each has built on the foundation that my family, specifically my father, gave me.  I have become an extension of my teachers, and I only hope that I can teach others as well as they have taught me.”

Leslie says she thoroughly enjoys shooting, but has also come to love instructing; and with a family of instructors to call her own (Mom, Shawn, instructor and administrator; Dad, Larry, Idaho State Coordinator for Appleseed; 16 year-old sister, Heather, instructor and administrator; and 14 year-old brother, Patrick, instructor), this group is sure to continue to instill a love for shooting, and American History, in all they come into contact with.

Check out Leslie’s blog at The Little Adventures of Western Rose.

Click on the Appleseed Texas facebook page or to find the Appleseed facebook page for your area, click here.

How shooting helped heal me of cancer

Caution:  Might be some God talk below, so if you don’t want to read it, feel free to just click away.

A year ago, almost to the day, I was told by my endocrinologist that I had too many nodules on one side of my thyroid gland and that at least one side had to come out.  In April of last year, I had the surgery, which went well, and all pathology during surgery came back benign – nothing to worry about.

I really didn’t give it another thought, untill I went for my followup visit two weeks later to find that post-surgery lab work showed not only was one of the tumors malignant, but that the cancer had spread, metastasized.  The doctor was somber, very sorry, and referred me to an oncologist for further treatment.

That was the day I felt the life drain out of me.  I had gone to the appointment alone, because there was nothing to worry about – or so I thought.  On the way home, I called my husband and various family members, who all gave much encouragement; but it was hard for me to hear them with all that was going on in my head.  I was still the one with cancer, and regardless what kind of cancer you have, or how treatable it may be, just receiving the diagnosis feels like a death sentence – at least it did to me.

So I melted down for a few days, just continued to spiral downward, couldn’t stop crying, was terrified to the point of panic attacks, and just didn’t know where to turn.  I was a believer in God, and did believe that God heals, but I also knew that many “believers” had died believing; so I had no true anchor to hold onto, besides a hope that somehow I would be one of those that received favor.

Just prior to having the surgery, I had signed up for a basic women’s shooting class and had attended the first meeting.  Surgery, however, threw a wrench in the works and I knew I wouldn’t be able to complete the class, so I bowed out and hoped to make the next one.

I had only shot a gun, maybe twice, possibly three times in my life – and then only when I happened to be with someone in a woodsy setting who said, “Here, do you want to shoot it?”  I rarely even knew what “it” was that I was shooting.

I had also sat and pulled the trigger on a .22 rifle at my son’s 4H practice sessions a couple of times, and I knew that I wasn’t afraid of guns; I had just never really thought of shooting them myself.

While waiting for an appointment with the oncologist, I tried to get into another women’s class, but none was scheduled at that time; I tried to get the person who taught the class to meet me at the range and shoot with me, but our schedules never meshed; and my husband, who had no more experience with a pistol than I did at the time, was too busy working to go with me.

At this point, I was over my meltdowns, and had realized that I do have faith in God, and that I do believe that He loves me and would heal me, but I was still very weighed down by all I was having to deal with.  So one day I told my, then 13-year-old son, to pack up the shooting gear, we were going to the range.

I had been with Dylan at every 4H meeting up to that point, and I knew how the coaches drilled safety at every meeting.  I had seen Dylan handle guns; I knew he was aware of the safety rules; and I knew that he could show me how to shoot the gun.  So off we went – and yes, I was nervous as a cat.  That day, I was cleverly disguised as the responsible adult, but really, it was the child that was in charge.

We both survived that day, though, so I made it a weekly event – we would head to the range every Tuesday morning, no matter what.  On occasion, there would be someone at the range that took me under their wing and gave me tips, such as retired Marine Captain, Ed McCourt, who I can’t thank enough for all he taught me during those impromptu sessions, and who always made me feel like I was the best shot out there.  Overall, though, it was me and Dylan, heading out by ourselves every week, sometimes being the only ones at a large, outdoor range (another frightening thought).

But by this time, my self-esteem was improving; I began to feel more confident; and the depression was lifting.  My visit to the first oncologist confirmed what the initial pathology had said, and I was referred to the world-famous MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is only about 20 minutes from my house.  Tests were re-run and I waited to meet with the expert.

As I became more comfortable with my gun, and realized I could be safe and really enjoy shooting, I decided to begin working through the NRA/Winchester pistol qualifications, which really boosted my confidence as I shot my way through each level without any problems.  I also attended an Appleseed rifle shoot during this time, and although I was still too weak from the surgery to make it through the entire 105 degree weekend, I loved every single minute of it, and knew that under better circumstances I could shoot the course well.

The appointment at MDA began by having us meet with the Physician’s Assistant, a very business-like woman, who reminded me of my test results and explained the treatment I would need to be scheduled for as soon as possible – another surgery to remove the other half of my thyroid that was still there, followed by about three days in the hospital to undergo radioactive iodine treatment.

My husband was with me at this appointment and supported me when I said that I didn’t believe there was any cancer in my body and that I wanted more proof before I endured further treatment.  The PA was highly irritated that I was not cooperating, assured me that with my pathology there were no options, and after about an hour of explaining her position (and my lack of options) many times over, she finally brought the doctor in so she could tell me the same – which she did.

The doctor, however, seemed to be a reasonable person who really listened when we talked; and since she knew that my type of cancer wouldn’t kill me overnight, she agreed to wait six months and re-test me.  She did reiterate, however, that the pathology had been run twice, by two different labs, and that with the results they found, I would be looking at the same recommendations in six months – surgery and radiation.  I guess she just felt I needed more time to reconcile myself to the idea.

So for the past six months, I’ve been at the range every chance I could get, have been reaching out to bring other women into the sport (so I can have some friends to shoot with), and have even sought instructor certifications so that I can teach – and my skills and confidence level have improved daily.

I also spent the last six months really thinking about what I believe about God and healing, and while I won’t get into those details here, I realized that I truly do believe God is good and loving, and that it is His desire for me to be well.  Now, I can’t speak for others, and will be happy to talk to anyone privately that might want details; but I’ve spent the last six months building my faith and receiving support from those who believe the same – three very important people being my son, Kyle, and my pastor, Taylor Cole – who both introduced me to life-giving true grace – and my husband, Tom, who never lets me forget I am loved.

Two days ago, my six months was up – actually, it was a couple of weeks ago, but I inadvertently missed my appointment and had to reschedule.  So I did go two days ago, although I didn’t want to, because I knew in my heart that I no longer had cancer.  In fact, when I mentioned it in church on Sunday, I didn’t even ask for prayer, just made mention of the fact that I had my followup in a couple of days; but I began laughing as I said it.  It just sounded completely ridiculous to me.  It was as if I was saying, “Hey, everyone, I’m going to turn purple on Wednesday, so be thinking of me.”

After running through the same battery of tests, and waiting three hours to hear the doctor’s verdict, what I heard was what I truly expected to hear – my labs were perfectly normal, “lovely,” in fact, is the word the doctor used.  There was no sign of cancer, thus no treatment needed.  Praise God!

So what happened over those six months that made the difference?  First, I remembered that I really believe what I believe; it’s not something that just sounds good, but has no practical application – either my faith makes a difference in my life, or it is worthless.

Second, although I had invaluable support from other family and friends, my husband spent almost every day telling me how perfect I am, how I’m not broken, and how I deserve God’s best.  He has been my biggest supporter and greatest encourager for almost 17 years now, and I love him tremendously for that.  He also kept me supplied with a steady stream of ammo (not cheap at primarily 9mm) and began to make time to join us in our new favorite hobby (which has now become our favorite way to spend time together as a family).

Third, shooting really did come into my life at a time when I needed to feel empowered.  Receiving a negative diagnosis can strip you of all power, cause you to feel at the mercy of other people, and just completely deflate your sense of self.  Through shooting, I got those things back;  I began to feel confident, empowered, strong – and feeling strong physically helped me feel strong mentally and emotionally.  It gave me something to work toward, something to strive for; it helped shift my focus away from the problems and onto something else (that little black dot way down there).

Through those trips to the range each week, I really gained a sense of self, of who I was, and what I wanted to do.  It also gave me so many hours of enjoyment with my youngest child, that we will both always remember.

So did shooting heal my cancer?  No, God provided for that a long time ago (again, details if you want them).  But shooting (and my husband) did give me the strength to stand firm in my beliefs.  And although there are many paths to healing, and everyone has to find their motivation, their reason to fight through, for me, shooting played a major role.

And now, there’s no stopping me.  I’ve been voted in as Women’s Director at my range, I run women’s leagues, I have tons of activities planned for ladies who shoot or who are new to the sport, and now I have new friends across the country because of my blog.

So do you think cancer would dare come near me now?  Please.  This chick carries a gun, and she’s not afraid to use it!

A Teenage Appleseed Instructor

I’m linking to a post that Western Rose put up today about the fact that she has attended 50 Appleseed rifle shoots, instructing at most of them – and she’s not even out of high school yet!  You can read her story here.  She is one of the amazing young people that I will be interviewing and reporting on, so I’ll have her complete story here soon.  In the meantime, check out her page The Little Adventures of Western Rose; I know you will love it.

First up in my series will be an interview with Allie “Allie Cat” Barrett – coming soon, don’t miss it!

Happy Shooting!

Tactical Shooters Get Schooled By Teenage Girls

I look for every chance I can get to promote Project Appleseed, and this post – by a military marksman – is a good example of what you might find at a shoot. Check out this program – there is none like it!

Firearm User Network

So, your hero tactical “instructor” is a hard core military type with deployments overseas, huh? Well, isn’t that cute. I wonder how his shooting skill would stack up against a teenage girl.

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