The last time Kathleen Walsh checked up on the medals she has won in pistol tournaments here and there in just two years of competition, they totaled 33. She keeps most of them on a hanging wall bracket in her bedroom and sticks the overflow inside a box in the closet.
At 16 this pistol-packing prom girl from Marymount High in Arlington, Va. has only 10 tournaments behind her. So it looks as though after a few more years of this sort of thing she'll have to move her bed right out into the hall to make room for the championship silverware.
At any rate, for somebody who never even held a pistol in her hand until she was 14, she has moved up pretty fast. She did start fooling around with the .22 rifle when she was 12, piercing paper targets in local contests. And she still has nothing against the rifle as a real sporting weapon—still uses it, as a matter of fact. But once she got her hands on a pistol, the old thrill was gone and the new one began.
"At first," she says, "you feel all sort of wobbly with a pistol because you haven't any support to sight in the way you do with a rifle. On account of that you have to develop a lot of mental self-control. A good part of what it takes to shoot a pistol is right up in your head."
Apparently what's up in Kathleen's head is just right for pistol shooting. In 1953 she journeyed out to Camp Perry, Ohio, with her father and entered the National Pistol Championships. She had a little local tournament experience behind her, but not much. It was like a Three-Eye league ball player trying to jump to the majors. All Kathleen did was finish third in the big shoot for the Women's National Championship.
To make Kathleen's slightly incredible career in the world of the pistol shooters a little more credible, it ought to be pointed out that her father—Lt. Col. Walter R. Walsh, USMC—is not only one of the top rifle and pistol shots in the Marine Corps but in 1952 he won the National Service Rifle Championship at Fort Benning, Ga. He has collected enough medals and trophies to fill an attic.
A funny thing about Kathleen, as well as her father, is that they are both left-handed pistol shooters. This is fairly rare—in a tournament you're not apt to find more than two or three lefties out of 50 on the line. Nor is Kathleen left-handed all the way—she plays Softball summers in a recreational playground league (shortstop or first base) and she both bats and fields right-handed. On the other hand, she writes and drinks malted milks with her left hand.
Of course, Kathleen didn't get to be this good just because her father happens to be one of the nation's top-ranking shots. Like every other sport, pistol shooting demands a lot of practice.
Kathleen gets hers three ways. First of all, she's a member of the Fairlington Junior Rifle Club, which meets every Saturday. (She's the oldest in the group of 50.) Then, she competes in the Tuesday Night League with the Washington D.C. Pistol Club. And finally, the Walshes have set up a very neat target range in the basement of their home where they can go down any old time for a fast workout.
KATHLEEN'S BIGGEST THRILL
Kathleen went back out to Camp Perry in 1954 and though she was disappointed because she came in 4th this time, her father wasn't. The weather conditions were bad, and Gertrude Backstrom, one of the nation's best women pistol shots, was in the tournament—she hadn't been in '53. And, despite her impatience with herself, Kathleen found herself listed in the bulletin published by the Dept. of the Army's Division of Civilian Marksmanship as 40th out of 90 pistol shots all over the country who achieved the rank of expert.
As far as she can remember, Kathleen's biggest thrill came when she entered the tryouts for the U.S. representatives to compete for the International Rapid Fire Championship at Caracas, Venezuela. The tryouts took place at Camp Perry in 1954.
In order to get in the Perry Competitions, you had to beat out your regional rivals and get a score of at least 520. All around the country there were about 1,000 pistol shooters aiming for this goal.
Kathleen wound up at Perry, along with 250 to 300 regional survivors. Shooting it out on the line, the number was cut down to 50 by as nerve-racking a system of elimination as you could imagine.
The shooter aimed at a paper target with five scoring rings, two top and two bottom and one in the middle. You had exactly eight seconds to plunk them all on the first round, six seconds on the second round and four seconds on the third round.
Kathleen made 60 hits out of 60 shots, set a new woman's record with a score of 560 out of a possible 600. "But," she says, "I only wound up 22nd."
Twenty-second out of a starting field of 1,000! As they used to put it, things are tough all over