Sixteen-year-old Doreen Garrett was having a bad day. She and her father were slogging through a swamp, trying to get a shot at a huge buck they’d seen several times. It was cold, wet, and nasty. And then Doreen tripped on a submerged root.
The first thing into the knee-deep mud was the rifle Doreen was carrying, her grandfather’s Model 94 Winchester. They were two miles from their vehicle, and it was one of those situations where you don’t think it could get any worse. And then, while trying to clean the mud from the rifle and clear it, Doreen broke a stick off in the barrel.
The pair walked half a mile to a cold hunting cabin, and while she waited for the fire to warm the place up, she reflected on the events of the day. She saw a need for a compact, lightweight gun cleaning/clearing kit, but when she looked for one later none were available. So she started building her own.
The process was slow and tedious, but finally Doreen had put together what she believed was the perfect combination of useful items. She commented to a friend one day that it contained the whole kit and caboodle, which is what she decided to call it later.
Doreen’s kit was so popular she started putting them together for her family and friends, and as others learned about her invention she started selling them. She decided to market the kit on a larger scale, and talked her family into going to the Shot Show, the industry’s Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade show. The kit was also a hit there, although she had to fib a little to get in, as she was still only seventeen.
A company grew from Doreen’s Kit and Caboodle, and she named it Otis, after her father. Now her gun cleaning kit and other products are the top choice of many hunters, law enforcement officers, and members of the military. Don’t ever let anyone tell you America isn’t the greatest country in the world, when a sixteen-year-old girl can build a globally recognized company from a miserable day of hunting.
But Doreen isn’t the only woman with a success story lately. Sherri Jo Gallagher, a U.S. Army sergeant, recently took top honors in the 2010 National High Power Rifle Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio. And she didn’t just win, she set a new national record for the competition, with a score of 2396 with 161 bullseyes. She only dropped four shots throughout the match and logged 21 more X’s than anyone else, which included past winners.
The interesting thing about this story is that Sherri is the second woman in history to win the championship. The first woman to win it, in 1998, was her mother, Nancy Tompkins. I guess marksmanship, or markswomanship, as the case may be, runs in the family. Practically gallops.
But that kind of shooting ability doesn’t just happen, and it doesn’t show up overnight. Sherri grew up with a gun in her hands. When she was a kid her stepfather was the manager for a U.S. national rifle team. She was a shooter at age five. Her sister is also an outstanding shot, and took third place overall at this year’s match.
The girls were put to work in the target pits when they were young, and they soon figured out that if they volunteered to shoot they didn’t have to pull targets for others. They took to shooting like fish to water, and Sherri jumped at the chance to join the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit after she enlisted in the army. Later this year she will compete for Army Soldier of the Year, a title she has a realistic chance of earning. A few weeks before the competition at Camp Perry Sherri was named TRADOC (U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command) Soldier of the Year.
We don’t normally expect outstanding accomplishments and breakthroughs in traditionally male dominated areas from young women, even today, and I wonder why. It reminds me of the old riddle about the man and his son who had a car accident, and both were seriously injured and unconscious. When the boy was taken to an emergency room the surgeon looked at him and said, "I can’t operate on this boy. He’s my son."
I remember a lot of people thinking long and hard to try to figure out who the surgeon was, when it could only be the boy’s mother. Surgeons are supposed to be men, except that they aren’t.
Soldiers of the year and people who invent great gun related products are supposed to be men, too, except that they aren’t. Not always. I’ve always believed stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason, and I still think that’s true. But not everyone fits into the cubbyhole the world creates for them.
Congratulations are in order for these two impressive young women, and also for the parents who never told them, "You can’t do that. You’re a girl."
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who once invented a parachute that didn’t work. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org