Positive Article on Olympic Shooter in Wash. Post


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Virtus
July 20, 2004, 10:07 AM
This made the front page of the D section and is one of the feature stories on the Post's homepage right now: www.washingtonpost.com

She's Not the Retiring Type
After 28 Years With D.C. Police, Callahan Takes Aim at Games

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2004; Page D01

Libby Callahan didn't want a retirement party. She didn't want to listen to speeches, and she didn't want to stand up, embarrassed, in front of her peers. After 28 years in the Metropolitan Police Department -- after prison riots and robberies and protests and parades -- Callahan just wanted to rest.

So for the first week after she retired last August, she did nothing. No meetings, no celebrations, not even any trips with her pistols to the shooting range. And after a week of sleeping and reading and more sleeping in her Upper Marlboro home, Callahan was back on the range, for the first time completely devoting herself to the sport that will send her to a third Olympic Games next month.

At 52 years old, she likely will be the senior athlete of the U.S. delegation; the roster will be finalized later this month. She has more than 12 years on Connie Smotek -- the next oldest female shooter -- and nearly 37 years on swimmer Katie Hoff, the youngest U.S. Olympian.

But for all her experience, Callahan has never before been a full-time athlete. During her police career, which included more 60- and 70-hour weeks than she cares to remember, there was always another report to be filed or community meeting to attend, and so the shooting was sometimes pushed aside. Now, she is free to train seven or eight hours a day six days a week; to fire off 500 rounds at a time or devote an entire afternoon to the mechanics of squeezing a trigger.

"Being retired will definitely give her a leg up on the other competitors," U.S. pistols coach Erich Buljung said in all seriousness.

Which is not to say Callahan was some sort of slacker during her police career. The native of South Carolina started as a patrol officer in the 4th District before becoming the department's first female firearms instructor in 1980, when her fellow instructors encouraged her to enter police shooting competitions.

As her shooting blossomed, it devoured her free time. She would spend her entire lunch break on the range at Lorton Correctional Facility, would remain there for hours after her trainees left for the day and would then practice in her home at night. (Her front door is exactly 10 meters from her back wall, the length of an Olympic air pistol range.)

Callahan made the U.S. World Championship team in 1990 and in every fourth year since, and she qualified for the 1992 Olympics (in air pistol) and the 1996 Games (in .22 caliber, or sport pistol).

But her police career was progressing at an equally heady rate. She joined the department's special operations division, entered competitions as part of the country's first all-female SWAT team and was promoted to sergeant.

And she refused to put shooting ahead of police work, as her co-workers in the civil disturbance unit found out during the Mount Pleasant riots in 1991. Callahan was in Atlanta for a shooting competition, but when she heard about the riots she flew home early and headed into the field, eventually surprising her co-workers in the station.

"We didn't even know how she got there," said Lt. Jeff Herold. "All of the sudden, she just showed up."

When she became a lieutenant in the 5th District in 1999, she usually worked at least 60 hours a week, often covering the midnight watch commander shift. Callahan skipped international competitions and practice sessions at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in favor of meeting with residents and walking the beat with her officers in the triangle formed by Florida Avenue, Maryland Avenue and 7th Street in Northeast Washington.

She carried a wire notebook with her everywhere, meticulously recording the details of conversations and follow-up responsibilities. Her pistol practice sessions sometimes dipped to three or four times a week, and scenes from work would suddenly pop into her head during competitions (they still do).

Perhaps not surprisingly, her shooting suffered. She failed to make the 2000 Olympic team, a result she "didn't particularly care for" but that she blamed on herself. Others were less convinced.

"Sixty-hour weeks, and I know she was working the graveyard shift -- I think it's phenomenal that she was as competitive as she was," said longtime U.S. teammate Beki Snyder. "More power to her -- she's superwoman."


"I don't know how she did it, to tell you the truth," Herold said. "I couldn't do it."

After a job in headquarters and a promotion to captain, Callahan went back to special operations. By 2002 she was in charge of the division's special events branch, responsible for every parade, festival and demonstration in the city. Now she worked up to 70 or 80 hours a week, sometimes sleeping in her office during particularly challenging events.

"You can't imagine how much work is involved," said Lt. Ralph Ennis. "She stayed late all the time. She'd come in early, she'd come in on her days off. . . . Most of these athletes train all the time, especially for the Olympics, and if she's here, she's obviously not doing that."

Callahan insisted that "everybody was like that" in special operations, and said, "I wasn't the only one doing stuff like that." She said she never even remotely resented her job or the department, that she freely chose to devote herself to work.

She didn't agonize over the missed training sessions, certainly never discussed them with her co-workers. Indeed, she hardly mentioned her shooting at all, under the theory that "there's other, more important things going on than whether I shot good."

But her co-workers said Callahan's sacrifice was obvious.

"We never suffered, so I knew something was suffering somewhere," said special operations Cmdr. Cathy Lanier, who outranked Callahan but nonetheless considered her a mentor. "I can honestly say I don't think I've ever met another captain that focused so much right down to the very last detail. She's a perfectionist, she does everything extremely well. She doesn't miss any opportunity to do everything perfect."

Callahan is unable to provide much detail about her international results -- "once they're over, I try to forget about them" -- and she stashes her awards in a box in her closet. But she has no problem admitting that her shooting career might have been different if she hadn't been a cop.

"I was a police officer first," she said. "You can ask anyone in the department, I never sacrificed my job or gave less than 100 percent to my job [because] of my shooting. I would have felt guilty if I gave less than I should to my department. I didn't feel guilty if my shooting suffered because of the department, because I realized there were things that needed to be done. . . . I'm not bitter about that. It's just the way I am, and the way it was."

But by last summer, she had had enough. She said she felt drained, was no longer excited to go to work in the morning. And so without any fanfare -- just a few quiet meals out with co-workers -- she retired one month before qualifying began for the 2004 Olympic team.

Since then, she has finally trained full-time, practicing in her home and at the 12th Precinct Pistol and Archery Club in Davidsonville, where club leaders proudly say her presence is helping attract more serious shooters with serious ambitions. Callahan, who has been a member of the Army Reserves for nearly 20 years, said she feels more relaxed than ever. She can more easily visualize herself alone in the wilderness while shooting instead of dwelling on her job.

Buljung, the coach, said Callahan's performance has been more consistent since she retired; Snyder, the teammate, said she detects a renewed focus.

No American, male or female, has won an Olympic medal in pistol since Buljung in 1988. Callahan, who like Snyder will compete in both air and sport pistol in Athens, was seventh in sport at the 2002 world championships. Buljung said she could make the eight-person Olympic finals "with no problem at all."

The coach is not worried about Callahan's age; he calls her "a good kid" while acknowledging that she has "a little bit more experience than some of the other ones."

For her part, Callahan said she feels two decades younger than 52 and prefers to call herself "more seasoned" than her peers. She still would like to go to college, perhaps earning a degree in history. And she thinks in four years, at the age of 56, she might like to qualify for the 2008 Olympics.

"I believe it," said Capt. Diane Groomes, who calls Callahan "mom" to her face but describes her as a "silent hero" to others. "She's strong-willed, dedicated, and if she has her heart set on something, she'll get it."

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