Gwen Shepard

veterans Joe Fox and Gwen Shepard
Paralyzed Veterans of America former National President Joe Fox (left) with Gwen Shepard

Since getting over her fears, Shepard has helped to spearhead development of an air rifle program at the Wisconsin chapter of Paralyzed Veterans. Air rifle gives “members of all levels of disability the opportunity to shoot with adaptive equipment,” she said.

“You don't have to swing your body to shoot a clay target; you just line up on the target and pull the trigger,” she explained. Even individuals with high-level quadriplegia can use an adaptive device that allows them to blow air into a straw that activates the trigger. 

Ultimately, Shepard hopes that the program, which looks to open by the end of 2013, will allow her chapter to “help members be more active,” and develop skills that will help them participate in air rifle events, including those at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, co-presented by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

And she hopes that other veterans with disabilities won’t be hesitant to participate in Paralyzed Veterans’ trapshoot and air rifle programs. “It's fun, it's challenging, and you couldn't meet a nicer group of people.  I wouldn't change a moment of it.”

As a child, Gwen Shepard and her family traveled with her father, who served in the military, to his various duty stations. While he was stationed at Lowery Air Force Base in Colorado, she visited the Air Force Academy and instinctively knew that she would someday be in the military herself.

For 27 years Shepard served in the Navy Reserves and the Air Force Reserves. In 2003, she was activated to serve in the Air Force in Iraq. It was during this time that Gwen developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She later retired from the Air Force Reserves in 2008. In addition to PTSD, Gwen suffers from cervical stenosis, tumid lupus and various joint injuries in addition to chronic pain.

Following her military retirement in 2008, Shepard was invited to participate in the Paralyzed Veterans of America 2011 Green Bay trapshoot. She had been involved in the sport since 1998 but hadn’t participated since 2001 because the PTSD made her apprehensive about shooting. Despite trying to acclimate herself to the sport again, she was nervous when it was time for the first outing.

But for reassurance she was paired with Joseph Fox, Sr., a Marine Corps veteran and former Paralyzed Veterans’ national president. Fox calmly instructed her on what to expect when firing the shotgun and what she needed to do in order to hit her clay targets. Both she and her mentor recognized that at the end of the competition that she had done very well for someone who at the beginning of the day wasn’t even sure if she would be able to shoot the gun.

“As the day progressed,” Fox said, “she began to get more comfortable and started hitting (the targets) better. With each round she moved her score up from the last one and at the end she finished well, far better than she had expected to.

“Gwen, like all the other veterans returning, have hidden reasons that they or we cannot see or understand. They all deserve respect and are willing to learn, and for me to watch Gwen, and see her smile each time she hit a target, was enough for me to know that I helped a fellow veteran get back into shooting and start overcoming something that held [her] back,” Fox said.

“Now when I see her at other trapshoots I always ask her, ‘how’s it going?’ and she replies with a smile, ‘I'm doing better each time I shoot.’ ”

Shepard said she continues to enjoy shooting trap because it makes her feel more confident about herself. She admits that she was avoiding trapshooting, a sport she knew she enjoyed, because of her PTSD but now embraces any opportunity. 

“I still have some problems with gun noise but when I am with my buddies from Paralyzed Veterans it doesn't matter,” she said.

Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America's Adaptive Sports Programs 

Read our February 2013 Sports Spotlight: Ken DaVault   

Sam Gubitz is an undergraduate studying political science at The George Washington University.


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