A year and a half ago, Liz Bark sat in on a gun safety class only because her older brother, Andrew, wanted experience handling firearms.
It was the summer of 2010 and she had no intention of ever picking up a rifle.
Now the 13-year-old Catonsville resident can't imagine letting it go.
Liz said she "was just there for the ride" and had rejected instructor Chuck Sayre's multiple offers to fire a rifle in the first 90 minutes of the class.
"I wasn't much a fan of guns and big bangs," said the Arbutus Middle School eighth-grader.
She was there with Andrew, was taking the class as he looked forward to a career in the Air Force. Now 17, he'll enlist in the Air Force after graduating from Catonsville High School in June.
After the other students took turns firing rifles, Liz finally relented and fired a shot. She has hardly missed since.
"It's been history since then," said Sayre, 51, a Columbia resident. "Right off the bat, the minute we put the rifle in her hands, she was comfortable with it."
Liz earned one of four spots on the Maryland State Junior Shooting Team. She will compete for the national championship and a spot on the national team at the NRA National Junior Air Gun Championships in Anniston, Ala. June 26-28.
"All of my shooters are good shooters," said Sayre, of the 22 members of his Arlington Rifle and Pistol Club Team, who range in age from 8 to 53. "She's one of my top shooters."
Sayre said Bark, the youngest member on the Maryland team, is the first member of the Arlington club team to qualify for the nationals in air rifle.
In addition to firing air rifles, which use compressed air instead of gunpowder to propel bullets, Liz also shoots .22 caliber rifles, often termed small bore rifles.
No matter whether in practice or competition, earning a score of 600, a perfect score, drives the competitive spirit Liz never got to exercise when she played rec league soccer and baseball.
During the most recent air rifle season, which runs from September to the end of April, Liz said she has had three perfect marks, all in practice.
"I haven't quite hit it in competition yet, but I will," she said.
"It feels really good," she said of hitting the center of her target. "That just means I'm closer to a perfect score."
Liz's mother, Mary Claire Bark, a life-long Catonsville resident, said her daughter averages a score of 520 in competition and has hit as high as 575 in practice.
"When it comes down to competition, she's got it down," said Mary Claire Bark, who has shot before but didn't find nearly as enjoyable as her daughter. "She handles the pressure very well."
Her daughter is aiming for a more modest goal than perfection in the June event. She said she wants to finish in the top 30 from among the 200 shooters in various age groups.
"I've never been there before, so it's probably a whole new level of competition," she said.
Raising her game when it matters most is familiar territory for Liz, who auditioned on the cello for admission to the Baltimore School for the Arts for the 2011-2012 school year.
Of the 1,400 applicants to Baltimore school, only 100 were accepted. She was among them.
"That was very nerve-wracking because there are so many people who are so talented," she said. "I just felt like a little person in a chair with a little cello."
Despite earning the desired acceptance into the prestigious school, she has decided to attend Catonsville High next year.
Mary Claire Bark said her daughter has a lot of interests and Baltimore School for the Arts, which boasts alumni such as rapper Tupac Shakur, actress Jada Pinkett Smith, designer Christian Siriano and actor Josh Charles, wasn't "as well-rounded as she would have liked it to have been."
Liz started playing cello in fifth grade, about two years before she started shooting, and wants to continue both her hobbies in the future, she said.
"Cello and shooting intertwine a lot," Liz said. "Shooting, you're not supposed to think and in cello, I don't think whatsoever."
Liz's father has noticed positive changes in her daughter since she began shooting.
"A little more mature, much better concentration, more patience," said Edward Bark, who took up shooting after his daughter did to keep her company. "She's learned to discipline herself and take her time.".
Liz said she hopes to attend college on a rifle shooting scholarship.
According to the NCAA website, about three dozen schools have a competitive rifle team.
TCU won its second national championship in the sport this year, coming back to overtake top-ranked Kentucky, according to the NCAA. Alaska was third and Army fourth in the championships, held in Columbus, Ohio.
Liz said she plans to continue shooting even after she earns a degree that she hopes will propel her into a career as a veterinarian.
Though her shooting skill makes it likely that she would be a good hunter, Liz said, "I don't ever intend on hurting or killing animals."
A chance at her ultimate shooting goal would be enough for Liz to pause her pursuit of a career helping animals.
"I do want to go to the Olympics and I want to shoot for the United States of America," Liz said.
Whether in 2016, 2020 or an Olympics beyond that, she said hopes to make the Olympic team.
"Maybe when I'm out of college and everything," Liz said. "I'm mostly just focusing on my school work and shooting and cello."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun