August 25, 2000

Renee Ayala - A Modern Day Annie Oakley

By Elaine Tarello

Fort Benning, Ga. - Renee Ayala is on a 21st Century quest not much different from her 19th Century Wild West ancestors. The daughter of an Escondido couple may not be wielding a six-shooter in a high-noon shootout or panning for gold in a California mountain stream but she is involved in a modern-day shootout of sorts and is definitely interested in a search for gold.

Renee Ayala sights a target at practice. Photo by John Lasky

Ayala, an Army specialist, is a member of the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit (AMU), the premier shooting team currently on a quest for gold at this year's summer Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

This unique unit showcases the Army's most talented shooters and prepares them for world class competition in seven shooting trials - service rifle, service pistol, international rifle, international pistol, running target, action shooting and shotgun.

Since its inception in 1956, the AMU has produced dozens of high caliber shooters like Ayala. These modern day Annie Oakleys and Billy the Kids have captured hundreds of individual and team national titles, with more than 40 world championships and 19 Olympic medals tucked into their gun belts.

Ayala, an international pistol shooter, can lay claim to more than a few of those championships. She took silver in the Women's Junior Sport Pistol portion of the 1999 National Championships, bronze at the Women's Sport Pistol at the 1999 Junior Olympics, was the 1996 National Junior Air Pistol Champion and a member of the 1998 U.S. World Championship Shooting Team.

Not bad for someone who just started shooting in 1995.

"My parents started me shooting," said Ayala, a 1997 graduate of Orange Glen High School in Escondido, CA. "They knew I liked shooting sports, so they took me to the local Fish and Game Club and I began to shoot rifles for fun. I learned about gun safety and competed for fun in matches. In time, I was picked up by a pistol team."

Unlike other soldiers, Ayala's primary job isn't to train for battle; it's to prepare for matches. She and the other AMU soldiers spends their days training for interservice, national, international and world competitions, like the Olympics, World Cup and the Pan-American Games.

Army Spec. Renee Ayala, cleans her pistol before practice. Photo by John Lasky

"My day begins with a 6 a.m. run," Ayala said. "After, I draw weapons, shower and come to work. We begin training at 8 a.m. After lunch, we do a variety of activities such as range maintenance or cleaning weapons."

Ayala's international pistol team competes in a variety of matches around the world, with shooters firing at a 10-ring target. Shooters use a standing position and must hold and fire the weapon with one hand, wrist clearly free of support, at targets ranging from 10 to 50 meters away. It's a challenging sport with fierce competition, but Ayala said she will continue to set her sights on success.

"My ultimate goal is to win Olympic gold," Ayala said. "We compete all year long to gather experience and training. When we go to international competitions, we compete against world champions, Olympic medallists and other top shooters. Shooting with them helps keep me motivated. I want to be one of those champions and have people look up to me the way I look up to them."

Unlike the sharpshooters of the Wild West, Ayala doesn't ride across country on a stallion, aiming a six-shooter at thieves and scoundrels. She's sporting a pistol and is aiming at Olympic gold.

Return to the Frontpage