Shooting a team sport for Lance Weir

By Brian Hightower | May 03, 2012, 10:45 p.m. (ET)

Lance Weir is one hell of a shot. 

Its too bad he doesn’t get to practice.

He started shooting less than two years ago. During the Marine Corps trials this winter, he fired a near-Paralympic Games qualifying score, though he hadn’t actually touched a rifle in months.  Then, on Thursday’s finals of the SH2 standing rifle competition at the 2012 Warrior Games presented by Deloitte, he fired a group of ten shots that would have fit inside the cap of a pen, and took the gold medal. 

Ironically, Lance cannot stand for a standing rifle event, and even more remarkably, he cannot squeeze a trigger. In August 1993, Marine Corps Reservist Weir was near his home in Walnut Springs, Ark., cooling off with his friends in the Spring River.  In a moment of whimsy, Lance dove from a canoe to grab a floating Razorbacks baseball cap. That seemingly harmless decision turned dire when his head hit a submerged rock.  With his C5 vertebrae shattered, and now paralyzed, Weir floated downstream.

Like so many of his fellow competitors this week at the U.S. Air Force Academy and U.S. Olympic Training CEnter, Lance was given a grim prognosis.  And also like so many of the warriors here at these Games, he proved his doctors wrong.  In fact, he’s still ignoring his doctors. 

Just a few weeks ago, Lance had emergency surgery on his hip, which had an internal bleed around some permanent hardware. Surgery is taxing for anyone who goes under the knife, but even more so for a quadraplegic.

Doctors didn’t want him to travel to Colorado Springs, Colo., with his team. Lance’s risk of infection is heightened, and the drugs he has to take are wiping him out. But he loves to compete. And what do doctors know anyway?

Competitive shooting requires a zen-like calm.  Lance is masterful.  But behind what appears to be a serene and cursory task is a laborious and grueling exercise.  First, Lance cannot hold a rifle in his hands.  The gun sits on a table, but he still has to manipulate it.  In order to aim, he has to harness the strength to lift arms that he cannot feel. And in hands that have not had sensation since 1993, he must somehow hold on.

Firing? The shoulder. With the feather-like touch and precision, the right shoulder nudges an unresponsive arm, and by extension, the right hand, which presses a modified trigger and fires a round. 

For Lance, shooting is a team sport. Since discovering his new favorite pastime, his nurse, Niki Gardea, has chambered every round and adjusted every sight for him. Within a few minutes of talking to her, it is clear that she is not just a nurse and not just a rifle holder, she is family.  But her role in the arena is vital.  He doesn’t have the strength to hold the gun after he fires, so she holds it between rounds.  She knows the affect that IV drugs are having on his strength.  After all, she put the needle in him.  She confided today that Lance is exhausted.

Niki loads as the zen-master summons the arms to shooting position and starts his progression:  “Steady breath in.  Control the heart rate.  Believe what you see... Fire.”

Watching Lance from the stands are the other members of Team Weir, mother Gail, and brother Allen. 

Gail was by her youngest’s side in the hospital in Memphis for those trying first six months.  In her endearing Arkansas lilt, she admitted, “I didn’t even know what the word quadraplegic meant when the doctor first told us, and then when he explained it, I fainted right there on the floor of Elvis Presley Memorial.” 

She has been with him through it all. 

She smiled. “Lance was wild.  I think God was trying to slow him down.”

Allen might be Lance’s biggest fan.  As a big brother, he is bursting with pride.  When we start talking about Lance, there are two topics which cause him to stop so he can choke back the tears.  (No use.) The first is when he mentions Lance’s recent decision to leave Walnut Ridge for the first time since his injury and move by himself to California.  “I just miss him.”   The second,   “I just told him, that I don’t care what place you come in, I am so proud of you for being here and competing.”

And did he ever compete. The Marine Corps Reservist Lance Weir bagged a bronze in prone rifle to go with his gold.  Not to jump the gun, but since Gail and Allen watch all of his competitions, they might need to start looking into travel plans to Rio for the 2016 Paralympic Games. 

Just think how good he’d be if he ever got to actually practice.