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Three-Time Olympian's Shooting Gets Better With Age

By Tim Hipps
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2004 – At age 52, Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Elizabeth "Libby" Callahan will be the oldest member of Team USA competing in the Olympic Games at Athens, Greece.

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Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Libby Callahan, 52, will be the oldest member of Team USA competing in the Olympic Games at Athens, Greece. She competes Aug. 15 in women's 10-meter air pistol and Aug. 18 in women's 25-meter sport pistol shooting. Photo by Tim Hipps

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A three-time Olympian and member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, Callahan said she has never felt better about her chances in the world's largest sporting event. She will compete Aug. 15 in women's 10-meter air pistol and Aug. 18 in women's 25-meter sport pistol shooting.

"I feel so good about my chances and my ability to compete in this Olympics," said Callahan, a native of Columbia, S.C., who lives in Upper Marlboro, Md. "I feel so much more confident. I feel that I'm more ready than I have ever been to compete and I have as good a chance as anyone else."

In the 1992 Barcelona Games, Callahan finished 37th in air pistol. In the 1996 Atlanta Games, she placed 23rd in sport pistol. In Athens, she hopes to shoot more memorable marks to honor those shooting more meaningful rounds.

"It's extremely important to me at this stage in my life and at this time in history to be a member of the United States Army," Callahan said. "I think about our troops all around the world, especially in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq. To me, they're more important than anything that I'm doing. To be a part of the military and to be represented by them is an important aspect of my career."

Getting away from police work has allowed Callahan to train longer hours with more peace of mind.

"I've been around shooting for a long time, and I think it's seasoned me," she said. "The fact that I retired this past year has also helped in the reduction of stress that I feel from my job. I certainly feel better physically and mentally going into these Games as opposed to the other two. In the past, when I was working with the police department, I didn't go so much for quantity of practice as I did for quality."

Callahan said it usually took several days, sometimes even a week, for her to unwind from the constant stress of police work to relax enough for competitions.

"A lot of times, the competition was over by the time I was ready," she said. "But that was just the intensity that I devoted to my job. I'm not complaining; that's just the way that I am."

Callahan scoffs at skeptics who don't consider shooters athletes.

"A lot of people feel that because I don't lift weights to the degree where I'm lifting for a medal or run to the degree that I'm competing in a race, that I'm not an athlete," she said. "But I have to keep strong and make sure that I'm cardiovascularly fit. It takes a lot for me to stand on a range four or five hours to shoot and lift a two-and-a-half-pound gun over and over and over again hundreds of times, sometimes a thousand times in a day. And to hold your muscle skills, it takes strength to do that.

"We are athletes in the sense that we have to do something with our muscles totally opposite of what somebody else is doing," said Callahan, twice named most valuable player on her basketball team at Cardinal Newman High in Columbia. "It takes a tremendous amount of strength and the mental aspect of it, too."

Although she now trains on her own at the 12th Precinct Pistol Club Range in Davidsonville, Md., Callahan said she probably wouldn't be going to Athens without military backing.

"The Army has supported me over the years in so many ways in my pursuit of shooting, not only financially, but morally, with equipment, and with coaching," Callahan said of her 19-year service to the Army Reserve. "To win a medal would mean that all my hard work has paid off and that I have accomplished a goal that I set for myself. I'd probably stick it in a box and put it in my closet.

"I don't dwell on past accomplishments, because I feel that you're only as good as your last shot," said Callahan, named 2001 Pistol Athlete of the Year by USA Shooting. "That's not going to help you win anything. What you do right here in the moment is what's going to help you win down the road. Each and every shot, you've got to think: 'Execute, execute.'"

Callahan said that winning her first international medal, which she gave to her mother, was the highlight of her shooting career. She can top that shining moment with an appearance on the medal stand in Athens.

(Tim Hipps is assigned to U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center Public Affairs.)

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Related Sites:
U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center
2004 Olympic Games

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Military Olympians Head to Athens Seeking Gold

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Reserve Staff Sgt. Elizabeth "Libby" Callahan, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program who lives in Upper Marlboro, Md., prepares to make her third Olympic appearance in pistol shooting during the Athens Games. Photo by Tim Hipps  
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