When Gabby Franco began shooting in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, at age 11, she had no idea how far it would take her.
Her journey to the Olympics, appearance on two seasons of TV’s “Top Shot,” and travels all over America teaching shooting have earned her fame, numerous awards and a chance to make a living doing what she loves. But what she values most are the many positive ways shooting has changed her life, and how it has enabled her to educate and help shape the lives of others.
It’s amazing how many places my life has taken me since I started shooting. Growing up in Venezuela, I was very hyperactive, so my parents were always trying to find new things for me to focus on. When I was 11, my father went to the range for his concealed-carry permit, and when he noticed there was a junior shooting team, he signed my sisters and me up to learn to shoot.
At first, it was scary—but I soon became addicted to the challenge. Hitting a bull’s-eye once was easy. Hitting one 40 times in a row? Not so much!
I was soon training several hours a day, six days a week. In 1999, when I was 18, I qualified for the Pan American Games. Taking home the silver medal was one of the happiest moments of my life—not only because I knew I had shot well, but because it earned me the chance to compete in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
I didn’t win a medal in Sydney, but it was an amazing experience. It was also a bit overwhelming. I was the first woman to ever shoot for Venezuela, and representing myself, my entire country and all female shooters was stressful. But I’m still amazed I had the opportunity to go. I was able to train for years doing something I loved, and became one of the best in the world. I earned an experience not everybody can have, and that’s more valuable than anything to me.
Shooting against the top competitors from each country taught me a lot, and I was able to use that knowledge in later competitions. Over a five-year period, I competed in 14 different countries and earned more than a dozen international titles. For several years, I was the Venezuela National Champion, and when I went to the South American Games in Brazil, I brought home three gold medals.
I worked hard to accomplish what I did, but I always had my city, family and coaches supporting me. They taught me to channel my extra energy into a relentless pursuit of improvement. They taught me to shut out distractions, to conquer my fears and to always keep going.
Awhile after I moved to the United States, I went through a difficult time. I lost my job and missed my family in Venezuela. I remember thinking, “What can I do? What do I have that I can share with others?” I thought about my experiences at the Olympics and everything I’d learned in competition, and decided to become a firearms instructor.
Since then, life hasn’t slowed down. I’m able to make a living teaching shooting and giving classes and seminars all over the U.S. I’ve even written a shooting manual, and am working on another.
I’ve also focused on staying sharp. I am very active in USPSA, and had the chance to compete in two different seasons of the television show “Top Shot.” I never thought I’d be able to do something like that, but I did, and wound up becoming one of the longest-lasting female contestants in the show’s history.
I’ve got my eyes on representing the U.S. in the 2020 or 2024 Olympics. But regardless of what happens, I’ll know I’ve pushed myself to do my best and never stopped learning the lessons that the shooting sports can teach.