Mancos Marksman

Photo courtesy of Travis Imel

Tia Imel, front, aims her air rifle at the Colorado State Junior Olympic Championships in the Olympic Training Center at Colorado Springs on Jan. 20. The Mancos 10-year-old received a letter to return to the Olympic Training Center to compete in the National Junior Olympic Championships on April 8-10.

By Bobby Abplanalp Journal staff writer

A local Annie Oakley in the making?

An American sharpshooter in Mancos has future Olympian written all over her.

Shooting .22 rifle bullets through the center of quarters and dimes from 30-plus feet, is routine for Tia Imel.

Oh, and Tia Imel is 10.

The 4-foot-5, fourth-grader at Mancos Elementary School is already shooting with the best.

Tia competed and performed well at the Colorado State Junior Olympic Championships in the Olympic Training Center at Colorado Springs on Jan. 20. The on-target tike did so well shooting women's air rifle, that Tia was invited back to the OTC.

The Mancos kid will take fire in the National Junior Olympic Championships on April 8-10, at the OTC in the (J3) 14-Under category.

Although Tia is returning to Colorado Springs, she's not completely satisfied.

"I want to beat the last score (of 343) I got up there," said the soft-spoken shooter.

Spoken like a true competitor - always striving to get better. Tia began shooting with her dad, Travis Imel, when she was 5 and has shot competitively for the past three years.

Tia's progression in the sport has been as fast as a speeding bullet.

"She started shooting with me and liked it so much, she just kept doing it," said Travis, who is a shooting instructor with the Four Corners Rifle & Pistol Club. "She even got me back into it, to where I became an instructor."

The Four Corners Rifle & Pistol Club's junior shooting program was instrumental in Tia's growth. Coaches Cody Lingo and Tim Hunter really set the foundation for her, while the gun club also provided specialized equipment for the youngster.

Tia is great shooting both rifles, but the air rifle is her favorite. She practices at her indoor range at home, shooting coin-size paper targets from 33-feet (10-meters), which is the competitive distance.

"It's pretty easy," Tia said, nonchalantly.

Like any sport, equipment costs money and rifles aren't exactly cheap.

Sponsors help out, but fundraising is important.

Those quarters and dimes Tia puts holes through aren't just for practice. They're for making jewelry.

The 10-year-old entrepreneur makes necklaces out of quarters and earrings out of dimes and sells them on Facebook.

The result?

Enough money raised for a new Walther air rifle, shooting jacket and pants.

Tia is also a part of the local 4-H shooting sports' program. She's won and placed in various competitions at the regional and state level in both disciplines.

The ultimate goal is to one day get to the Olympics. Tia is coached via Skype video by former Venezuelan Olympian Gabby Franco.

Tia is already thinking college, hoping to earn a athletic scholarship to shoot rifles at the NCAA level. That's why she has shot air rifle with Kevyn Stinett, who is a member of the Air Force Academy women's rifle team in Colorado Springs.

Precision shooting takes extreme concentration. For a 10-year-old girl, it's still pretty simple.

"Think about happy things," said Tia, whose mother and younger brother are Tracey and Broc Imel. "Don't think about getting a bad shot when you're in position."

Those positions include, standing, prone and kneeling.

It doesn't matter the level of competition or the amount of people shooting. Tia welcomes a challenge like a doughnut shop welcomes policemen.

"I used to could only shoot with a few people, now I can go to the outdoor range and shoot with 12 people," she said. "At (4-H) state in Pueblo, there were more than a 100 there."

Roughly 400 participants were in attendance, according to Travis.

Little Tia Imel has accomplished big things at 10 years young.

Ten years from now, Tia Imel won't be a little girl. The Mancos marksman may be practicing for the biggest sports stage.

The Summer Olympic Games of 2024.

Whatever happens, she will give it her best shot.

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