I’m a fan of competitive shooting, as well, and am just beginning to get into that arena. I also believe in working through some type of qualifications, such as the NRA/Winchester Marksmanship steps, in order to have a measurable way to improve. It’s a great way to get started and move toward the next goal.
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!
Well, it didn’t take nearly as long to complete the handgun qualifications through Expert as it did to write about them, so here is the second part of my NRA pistol qualification quest.
In my last post about the quals I was mid-way through the Marksman 1st Class level, which I completed. Marksman 1st Class requires two-hand shooting, both strong side and weak side. This means that you hold the gun with both hands in a normal grip for the strong side shooting, then switch your grip so that the weak hand pulls the trigger during the next set. It takes a minute to figure out this grip using your weak hand, sort of like trying to cross your arms in the opposite direction than you are used to.
I was shooting at an AP-1 target, so had to shoot from 30 feet, and as with all the prior levels, it required ten qualifying targets. There are two stages to M1stC: The first stage being five shots in three minutes, strong side; and the second stage being five shots in three minutes, weak side, for a total of ten shots per target.
This is the first level of the qualification that requires a minimum score. To pass this level you must acquire five targets with a score of 46 or better and five targets with a score of 56 or better. The targets do not have to be shot in the same session.
The next level is Sharpshooter, which is the same stance and grip as M1stC, but with a faster time limit and higher minimum score. For this level the shooter must fire five shots in 20 seconds with the strong-hand grip and five shots in 20 seconds with the weak-hand – still a two-hand grip, ten shots per target.
Scoring for Sharpshooter is, again, ten targets total, five with a score of 60 or better and five with a score of 65 or better. Both stages for a target must be shot in the same session, but the ten targets do not have to be completed on the same day.
Now we get to the Expert level, which is shot one-handed, both strong-side and weak-side. Once again at 30 feet for the AP-1 target and 15 feet for the AP-2 target, the shooter must fire five shots in three minutes and five shots in ten seconds with the strong hand; and then fire five shots in three minutes and five shots in ten seconds with the weak hand – for a total of 20 shots per target.
The complete Expert course (20 rounds) must be fired twice with a score of 130 or better and three times with a score of 150 or better.
Now we get to the highest prize, the Distinquished Expert level, which will encompass everything we have done in all previous levels, and which must be witnessed by a current NRA member, instructor, or coach, and for which paperwork must be submitted to the NRA in order to receive acknowledgement in the NRA magazine.
This level should be completed by hanging three targets at eye level, about an inch apart, and they are shot from the same distances as the previous levels. There are four stages to this level and each of the four stages must be shot during the same session, but the qualifying targets need not be shot on the same day.
In Stage 1, the shooter will fire five rounds, strong side, with two hands in ten seconds. Stage 2 is the same, except that the rounds are fired with one hand only, the strong hand. Stage 3 requires five rounds fired with two hands, weak side, in 10 seconds. For Stage 4, the shooter must place five rounds in the targets in 10 seconds, with the weak hand only.
Scoring for this level requires the shooter to acquire three targets with a minimum score of 145 or better, and three targets with a score of 170 or better.
So, all that to say that I have one more level to complete, Distinguished Expert; and it’s a level I hope to master within the next month.
Wish me luck ~ and happy shooting!
The first two levels in the qualifications only require that you shoot at a nine-inch paper plate, or nine-inch target, but I went ahead and purchased the NRA AP-1 targets, because I would need them for future levels. The AP-1 is a fairly large target, so if you use it, as opposed to the AP-2, which is smaller, you move out to 30 feet after the first two levels. The end result is the same, but I chose to go with the AP-1 so that I could say I shot the targets at 30 feet – it just sounds more impressive :0)
So on a very hot and steamy day, just before the sun began to set, I packed up my Glock and my gear and headed to the range. Fortunately, my son, Dylan, came along to be my ammo boy. He kept my magazines loaded so I could get as far as possible before losing too much daylight.
The first level that must be mastered on this journey is Pro-Marksman, where you are required to shoot five rounds at a paper plate (or a target nine inches in diameter) while sitting with arms braced, and get all of the shots within one-half inch of the outside rim – and then do that ten times. The distance for this step is 15 feet, and if using a nine-inch target, is pretty easy to master. Shots are made two-handed, with the “strong hand,” or dominant hand, pulling the trigger.
It can be a bit frustrating to shoot ten targets in a row and only put five shots on each target. Normally, I would shoot until I shot the center out and then cover it with a sticker target and shoot some more – I mean, why waste a perfectly good target, right?
So the next level is Marksman. This step requires ten shots in each paper plate (or nine-inch target), all of which must be within one-and-a-half inches of the outside rim. This time, the shooter is standing, using two hands, strong-side. This is, again, not too difficult if you have been target shooting for a while, as it is still shot at 15 feet. You also need a qualifying ten targets to pass this level.
I conquered that level and was ready to move on, but was beginning to lose daylight, was extremely hot and sweaty, my glasses were fogging up, and I was running out of ammo. Ugh! I pressed onward to Marksman First Class, though, and was able to complete three qualifying targets before having to leave. At least I knew I could do it, and that I would be able to complete that level the next time I was at the range.
Marksman First Class is the first time that AP-1 users must move back to 30 feet. It also gets more difficult in that the shooter must shoot two-handed, but fire five shots with the strong hand and five shots with the weak hand. Now, this was more difficult for me than it probably should have been. I had actually been practicing one-handed shooting in anticipation of these quals, but I had not realized that you do not shoot one-handed, but rather with two hands, strong side, then weak side. It is very different holding the gun with both hands, but having them overlap in a reverse grip, and then transitioning back and forth between targets.
I learned the hard way that I should spend more time making sure my grip was correct before firing. I didn’t realize that my strong-side thumb was not tucked carefully away and the slide drew blood on the first shot. I learned you must always be mindful of where your digits are, because losing that thumb would make shooting all the more difficult. So I got my little thumb tucked safely out of slide range and completed my three M1stC targets for the day.
I have to say that moving through the first few levels was a definite confidence builder, and I can now order my patch, certificates, and rockers (patches that go under the pistol patch that show the highest level one has achieved) for those levels. After completing Marksman First Class (seven more targets to go), I will move on to Sharpshooter, Expert, and Distinguished Expert, which I really believe I can accomplish with enough time and ammo – time and ammo being the keys :0) I’ll keep you updated on the journey!
For more information on the NRA Pistol Qualifications, click here.