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Athlete to Watch: Michael Tagliapietra There is something just cool

about Michael Tagliapietra. First, go ahead and acciden- tally butcher the pronunciation of his name. “Ta-li-a-pi-eh-tra” he’ll correct you in a perfect Ital- ian accent; his three forefi ngers and thumb pinched together a la the pronunciation of the name of a fi ne wine or a young Marlon Brando. If things get awkward, he quotes Inigo Montoya from “The Princess Bride.” Few things seem to faze this guy – even his path to a Paralympic dream. Tagliapietra (Fond du Lac,

Wis.) was introduced to pistol shooting originally by his boss. Three or four years later in 2000, he put the gun down. In 2003, Tagliapietra was in

a single-vehicle accident that would paralyze him from his mid-back down. It wasn’t until December 2011 when he wan- dered into the Phoenix Rod & Gun Club in Phoenix, Ariz. that he’d try his hand at shooting once again, but this time with a specifi c goal in mind. “I realized I wouldn’t be a

Paralympic wheelchair racer and picked up shooting again since I had done it before - it wasn’t going to take me years and years to reach a certain level and I thought I could more quickly become good at it, but then I didn’t realize how diffi cult air pistol was,” he said. “I got pretty lucky stumbling into the Phoenix Rod & Gun Club and having no idea who was there or anything like that. Don Plant – whose son used to be a resident here, let me use a pistol, and then John Zurek comes up to me and tells me about shooting air pistol and I was like ‘He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.’

Ruby Fox was there, Brenda Silva was there, and everyone was re- ally very helpful.”

So blessed with one of the best chance meetings for a new shooter, Tagliapietra even accompanied Zurek to Annis- ton, Ala. later that month to the Olympic Trials where Zurek would introduce Tagliapietra to Para- lympic National Coach Bob Foth. “I was so naïve in thinking

‘Yeah, if I shoot well here, I’ll make the team.’ Absolutely not,” Tagliapietra said. “You need quo- ta slots, you need MQSs…and Bob sat behind me the whole time. I was nervous as hell be- cause out of the corner of my eye I could see his silver hair and thought ‘he’s watching me!’ No pressure at all,” he says, sarcas- tically. “Just try and shoot well to impress this guy, but I think what he told me much later on was that just the way I approached the match impressed him. He doesn’t look for you to come out and shoot these great scores right away, but someone who has good strategy to a match and is determined. “ So Tagliapietra came to the

Olympic Training Center in Colo- rado Springs to get away, but in November 2012, he ended up moving here to train full time. “Bob had a lot of faith in me. I was training like fi ve-six days a week but I still wasn’t seeing these immediate results that I wanted – that everyone wants - because when I got here, that’s when my offi cial training started. He was like ‘this is what you’ve got to do,’” he said. “I struggled at fi rst and I don’t know I ever doubted myself, it was just frus- trating that I wasn’t getting as good as fast as I wanted to. I

54 USA Shooting News | Year in Review 2013

just had to realize you’ve got to work, work, work because you don’t pick up an air pistol and six months later are shooting the best scores in the world – it’s just not going to happen. When I realized I could really compete at a high level was this year at Nationals. My air pistol scores came up to a decent level but my sport pistol scores – Nick Beach, one of my teammates , came up to me and said ‘Dude, did you know those scores would have gotten you in the fi nal in London last year?’ and I was just ‘Um, nope!’ That’s when I was like ‘I might be good at this.”’ Later this summer he would

go on to claim a bronze in Falling Target at the International Para- lympic Committee World Cup in Bangkok, Thailand and three medals (one gold, two bronze) at the Brazil Open Shooting Cham- pionships, the fi rst international shooting event held where the Paralympic Games will be con- tested in 2016. Tagliapietra shoots 10m Air,

25m Sport and 50m Free Pis- tol so prior to 2016, he’s work- ing out plans on how to train for all of these events, but feels the mental aspect will be the most important part of the training. “Of course I’ve got to work

on my weight training, my cardio training, but I think it will be the mental training that helps sepa- rate the good shooters from the best shooters,” he said. “You can practice and shoot 570, but if you can’t handle the pressure of a fi nal or a match, it doesn’t matter. The mental aspect is something I need to work more on because I want to beat every- body.”

Photo by: Jeff Kearney

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