While other little girls were taking dance lessons and playing with Barbie dolls, Nicholle Benedict was learning how to shoot a rifle.
Nicholle, 16 and a junior at Quaker Valley High School, started taking rifle lessons when she was 10 years old. The Aleppo resident's father, Tom, has participated in rifle competitions for more than 30 years, and Nicholle soon joined his enthusiasm for the sport.
"A lot of my friends were surprised," she laughed, "A lot of people are even surprised when they find out today. I don't look like I shoot guns."
Nicholle's devotion to the sport paid off when she headed to Colorado Springs in April for the National Junior Olympic Championships where she competed in the small bore rifle three-position event. Her friend and fellow competitor, Ariana Grabowski, also 16, from Beaver Falls, also competed.
"The competition was really tough, but I shot my own personal best, so I was really happy," she said.
She uses a .22-air bore rifle in some of her competitions and also participates in an air rifle team at Frazier Simplex in Washington, Pa., and competes with them.
"I started competing when I was 13, and my dad is my coach," said Nicholle.
According to Nicholle, Mr. Benedict is a Navy veteran and now participates on the Navy Marksmanship Team. He also competes as a senior shooter in other competitions.
Her mother, Amy, and older brother, Nathan, shoot occasionally but do not compete.
Like most competitive sports, shooting requires a good deal of practice.
Nicholle said she practices shooting two or three days a week, usually for a two- or three-hour time stint at both indoor and outdoor shooting ranges. During the competition season November through March, Nicholle competes two or three times a month, often requiring a drive of several hours for the matches, she said.
In addition to participating in the Junior Olympic Championships, Nicholle has also achieved several other honors: 2011 National Rifle Association junior woman's three-position air rifle state champion; 2012 National Rifle Association intermediate junior national champion; 2012 gold medalist in three-position small bore rifle 4-H National Invitational; and 2012 gold medalist for four-position small bore rifle National Rifle Association sectionals.
Nicholle will also compete in the national competition in July as a Frazier Simplex team member for the three-positon air rifle category.
Although she has been shooting for years, Nicholle went hunting for the first time this past fall. She also weighed in on her own thoughts about gun control, a hot topic right now.
"I very much defend my Second Amendment rights to bear arms. I think we have sufficient laws right now, but they need to be enforced," she said.
As she starts to look at colleges, Nicholle said she will choose one that has a rifle team.
"There are several around the country and that will definitely be a factor," she said.neigh_north
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com.