Retaking What’s Yours: How Julie Waasted Used 3-Gun to Conquer Her Disabilities
Britney Starr 12.19.14
Julie Waasted decided to start competing in 3-gun after suffering multiple complications from brain surgery, including blindness in her right eye. I recently spoke with her to learn the story of how 3-gun helped her regain her independence and find herself again.
Britney: What’s your background with guns, shooting, and so on?
Julie: I grew up in the outskirts of San Diego with five brothers. We shot bb and pellet guns at just about anything we could get away with shooting. I also tried my hand in skeet and trap back when I was 16. During my first match (with a borrowed shotgun,) I hit 22 out of 25 clays. I joined the United States Coast Guard back in the 80s. [In the Coast Guard] I was taught how to shoot pistols, shotguns, and M16 rifles. We carried daily, so our dry-fire practice as well as range time was some of my favorite memories of my service.
Britney: Why did you decide to start shooting 3-gun?
Julie: I needed to find myself; I needed a new focus in my life. I had brain surgery back in 2012 and I woke up blind in my right eye, with visual disturbances in my left eye, speech issues, and concentration issues—you name it. Basically, I felt like my whole life as I knew it was gone. I wondered what, if anything, I could do [then]. Just like anyone facing a new disability, I questioned what would become my new “normal.”
I am not the kind of person who can sit still too long without going stir crazy. Unfortunately, the medical community was not really helping me (unless you call pills help) and I realized I needed to figure it out on my own. I took this new phase of my life on as new challenge, and started doing anything and everything I could think of to get back to “normal.”
One of my brain surgeons is an avid shooter. During follow up appointments we would spend time talking about hunting, fishing, and his competitive shooting. I mentioned how much I use to love shooting. His asked, “So what’s stopping you?” He is a total “meat and potatoes” kind of guy—he doesn’t have the words “I can’t” in his vocabulary. He inspired me to get out to the range.
So, I purchased my “unicorn” firearm—a Springfield Armory 1911 TRP—and headed to the range with a case of ammo. It was scary at first. I thought, Wow, now you need to shoot this left-handed. Well, that was a complete failure. After handling a pistol for so many years right-handed, I could not wrap my mind around shooting it left-handed. I decided to contact Matt over at Active Shooter Defense School. I told him about my issues and how I wanted to get ready to shoot 3-gun.
I think he must have felt like I was some crazy lady when he first got my email. My introduction was as follows: “Hello, I am overweight, out of shape, recently blinded on my strong side, and I want to learn how to shoot competitively.” He responded and said be at the range the next day.
We went through all of the basics, trying to get me to shoot my pistol left-handed. He finally said, “Look, you are just going to have to shoot right-handed. We can figure it out.” He worked with me almost daily for a month. The biggest problem I had with the pistol was running into things on my right side, barricades, walls, poles, you name it—I ran into it.
Then came the next hurdle to 3-gun—I had to re-learn how to shoot left-handed with a long rifle. It was a comedy of errors. I borrowed Matt’s rifle and we proceeded to try and get my brain to figure out how to shoulder a rifle on the left. All of my instincts said it goes to the right shoulder. Well, when you are blind in the right eye that just doesn’t work. After a lot of dryfire practice I can’t even pretend to shoulder a rifle to the right. It just doesn’t feel natural.
Britney: How has 3-gun helped you?
What hasn’t it done for me, should really be the question.
Honestly, after my surgery, because of the embarrassment I felt with my speech pauses, I would really only speak when asked a question. On the inside of my head I was fine, but when I spoke the words would not come out as I had wished.
My first match in May at 3 Gun Nation Western Regionals was easy. I had my instructor Matt and one of my shooting buddies Brad from my range go and shoot their first major 3-gun match with me. It was great having people around who I felt comfortable with and who knew me, but that match was also a comedy of errors.
Between May and August I practiced for the Kentucky Regional and worried about being at a match by myself. So, I did what any woman would do—I asked the hubbs to drive with me to the match. Yes, it was a 30-hour drive, one way, but I needed him. I had the 3-Gun Nation Regional and then five days later I had the Brownell ProAm, in which Linda Chico allowed me to shoot with the staff because I was driving out to Kentucky.
Interactions with people were required. I tried. That was what made me the happiest—I tried. The ProAm had a dinner hosted by 5.11 Tactical. I went to that dinner and the crowd was a little much for me; causing my speech pauses really show when I am uncomfortable. I went back to the hotel early. By the next day I was back to my normal and went and watched a few of my 3-Gun Nation squad mates shoot their ProAm match.
By the time the Marble Falls regional came around in August, I started to feel like I knew what to do. I decided to board a plane, rent a car, and do the match by myself—all “firsts” since surgery. I was squadded with friends I made in Kentucky, so I was looking forward to it. I would say that the Marble Falls match was my biggest learning experience in 3-gun. Everything the guys at the range and other shooters had tried to explain to me on how to break down a stage finally sunk in. I thought I had it all figured out. Wrong. I have to remember I am a right-handed shooter, shooting left-handed. So, every stage I broke down during the walkthrough was backwards. But my squad mates coached me and tried to help as much as possible.
By the time I made it home from Texas, I had two weeks until the Lady ProAm in Atlanta. At the Lady ProAm, I finally “got it.” My confidence level was through the roof. I looked at stages, understood what to look for, and noticed that it was coming naturally for me. It was a total breakthrough—everything was clear. Clear enough that during the match I felt confident enough to help other shooters understand what to look for.
So, now that I have told you this whole story, 3-gun has allowed me to re-gain “me.” I was siting on the couch allowing my disability get the better of me—not anymore. My goal is to show others you can do anything you set your mind to. Never let anything stand in your way.
There is a quote I have always referred to, and I think it’s pretty fitting:
Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have—life itself.