By Lorraine Lawrence
I recently attended was the Texas State
Sporting Clays Championship. As I walked along towards the clubhouse at the
National Shooting Complex (https://nsc.nssa-nsca.org) I was scanning the faces
of the people as I passed looking for friends I knew in the crowd. I spotted a motorized wheel chair a
short distance in front of me. While that may be a somewhat uncommon other
places I almost always see people in wheel chairs at competitions and charity
shoots here partially because of the efforts locally of the very active Texas
Chapter of PVA (Paralyzed Veterans of America http://texaspva.org ). I had to
jog to catch up to see if I had indeed recognized the back of Alvin’s chair.
Like many veterans that live here in the San Antonio area Alvin participates in
lots of outdoor sports; from competitive sporting clay shooting to hunting and
fishing. While an injury may change many things about someone’s life it doesn’t
necessarily change their lifestyle and interests.
I first met Alvin Guerrero back when I
worked for Bass Pro Shops and the TXPVA folks were looking for additional
sponsors for a group fishing trip to the Texas coast. The participants and the
enthusiastic volunteers were like dynamos of activity. Organizing and
sponsoring fishing trips, hog hunts, dove hunts and shooting sports were just
the beginning of events TXPVA was making available to paralyzed Vets. While my
friend Alvin has been a member of TXPVA for over 30 years he has become more
active in the organization serving both as a program director and board member.
Over the years the number of events and participants have steadily increased.
TXPVA touches on the reason sports are pivotal part of their goals and purpose
in their mission statement. “Texas PVA advocates for veterans and individuals
suffering from spinal cord injury or disease in order to assist them in
integrating into mainstream society and to open avenues towards living life to
its fullest. One of the ways that Paralyzed Veterans of America accomplishes
its purpose is to promote the health and wellbeing of the disabled person.
Paralyzed Veterans of America provides information and equipment to potential
wheelchair athletes. Archery, basketball, boating, football, sit-skiing,
racquetball, rugby, swimming, tennis, track and field, and weightlifting are
among the many sports and recreation activities in which PVA members can
participate.” I walked along with Alvin to the club house where several other
members of the PVA sponsored shooting team were waiting for the start time of
the main sporting clay event.
They all were wearing jerseys that
displayed the TXPVA logos and those of some of their corporate sponsors
including CZ-USA (https://cz-usa.com) which has really stepped up in providing
shotguns and equipment, Rio Ammunition (http://www.rioammo.com) that provides
ammunition for practice and competition, and others.
An avid sportsman, Alvin had to show me
photos of his most resent hunting and fishing trips. He also introduced me to
some of the newer sporting clays squad members. Soon they were all showing me
photos of hunting and fishing trips as well as other interesting activities.
While the Texas State Shoot (like many other big sporting clays events) had a
classification for “Para” or wheelchair participants, like all sporting clay
events their scores also counted in competition against all the other shooters
participating. Shooting sports can be a great leveling and equalizing activity.
The targets are the same for everyone. The only allowance given are that some
larger wheel chairs that are too large to enter the ‘cage’ or if the cage
itself prevents their full use of the gun they may shoot from just in front of
the cage . While some paralyzed participants use special modifications to hold
their shotguns or “pull” the trigger all of these modifications are considered
acceptable for competition.
Much like hunting or fishing where each
individual, depending on his or her own skills, has the same chances to have a
success in the field. In hunting, fishing and shooting sports are some of the
few places where the individual regardless of mobility can compete and have a
sense of accomplishment and the same successes as any other person.
I had time before the start of my next
event so I followed the PVA team down to the sporting clay field where they
were going to be shooting their rotation of the main event. While I had seen
Alvin and other wheelchair participants shoot before there were several members
of this group that had only recently joined the team. Indeed one who was still
recovering from the fairly recent injury that had put him in the wheel chair.
His enthusiasm and optimism about participating in these sporting events was
incredible. While sporting clays is an individual sport (though there are some
events where a team score is involved) it is one where you frequently see
competitors offering help, tips and even equipment or ammunition to someone
they are actually competing against. While all five of these shooters are able
to safely handle, load and fire their shotguns a couple did have the assistance
of a person to help get them set up before hand or to speed the loading between
shots. They never aid them in aiming or firing at the targets. But true to the
sport, we all offered our opinions if they missed a shot.
Alvin is an excellent competitor and
turns in scores that shooters not in a wheel chair would be happy to be making.
I’m sure it is one of the reasons he is very good at hunting too. I scrunched
down low outside the shooting area and a bit behind Alvin after he had entered
the “cage” to shoot the next station. One of the targets was a rabbit which many
competitive shooters claim to have trouble with hitting. I have heard similar
statements about disliking rabbit targets from people who were also former
national champions. He called “PULL!” and the trapper threw the targets. First
a high crosser and then the quartering rabbit. Bang! He crushed the crossing
target at almost the perfect spot… Bang! Dirt flew up about ten inches behind
the ‘rabbit’ target as it rolled on its way without a chip. “You are behind
it!” someone in the group helpfully offered. Alvin again confirmed his dislike
of ‘rabbits’ over his shoulder to us. The target setter had obviously done a
good job of making what looked like a fairly simple target very difficult to
hit. “Shoot to hit its ‘front feet’!” I offered. Sporting clay shooters use
several methods to explain distance or position of a break point on a target.
One method involves a clock face, another is anatomical where you imagine the
target as a bird or animal. “PULL!” Bang! The crossing target broke, Bang! Dust
just behind the rabbit target. He had closed the gap… “Don’t go back towards
the throwing machine as much. It is still beating you…” more advice as we all
were hopeful his last pair would be a success. “PULL!” Bang! The crosser broke,
Bang! The rabbit target broke! And as they say the “crowd goes wild”. Well, at
least we all cheered as he finally triumphed.
The next station the first shooter was
Willard Allen another USAF veteran and also an avid sportsman. Willard was
shooting a CZ All-American in 12 gauge with a “Sip & Puff” trigger
modification. The device enables him to ‘pull’ the trigger by creating a slight
vacuum on a special straw connected to the unit attached to his gun trigger.
Willard is extremely modest about his own skills, but seeing him shoot it's no
surprise he usually comes back from PVA bird hunting trips with his bag limits
on birds. The extent of his injuries has left him with less use of his hands
and upper body so he holds the gun in a slightly unconventional manner but it
works quite well. Willard is an all around sportsman and loves hunting and
particularly fishing, having been a guide for many years along the Texas coast.
As they went through their rotation in
shooting I got to know a couple of the newer competitors on Team PVA. Seeing
them shoot you would not have guessed how new they were to shooting competitive
sporting clays or how new Richard Carson was to actually using a wheel chair.
Injured only about a year ago Richard was a former Army Line Medic and had
received a Purple Heart. He had almost fully recovered from the injury he
received while in the Army that he was awarded the Purple Heart for when the
car accident happened. Just another obstacle to overcome is how he put it, and
indeed he has not let it slow him down. He was hitting competition level
targets even though he had not worked out all the refinements to his gun or his
wheel chair to make the task easier. He explained that he had grown up enjoying
outdoor sports including hunting, shooting, fishing and riding horses and was
very excited to find an organization that would help him regain access to those
While Kirk Black another Army veteran
was new to Sporting Clay competition, he already has a Para-Olympic credit to
his name. He was the captain of the US Para-Olympic Curling Team in the 2018
Winter Olympics. He has also participated in the National Wheelchair Games.
Kirk is hopeful about making it onto a second Para-Olympic team in shooting
Looking at some of the hunting and
fishing photos of the shooting team and other veterans TXPVA has helped provide
opportunities for it was easy to see why everyone I had talked to with the
group was singing praises of the organization. Outdoor sports have a way of
restoring all of us that participate in them, refreshing our spirits and
keeping us fit, be it hunting, fishing, or shooting sports.
Paralyzed Veterans of America is a
501(c)(3) tax-exempt, non-profit organization and they welcome your support in
changing the lives of wheelchair veterans. Visit https://pva.org or http://texaspva.org
for more information.
The National Shooting Complex is
located in San Antonio, Texas. The complex is the home of the National Sporting
Clays Association and the National Skeet shooting Associations. With over 600
acres of dedicated sporting clay, trap, and skeet fields and more it is
frequently host to many events from national and international shoots with
thousands of competitors from the world over to charity events and local “Fun
Shoots”. The complex is open to the public. Visit https://nsc.nssa-nsca.org for more information.