Deena Wigger Biography
Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Further Information
American rifle shooter
Deena Wigger is a one-time world record holder in women's air rifle, and was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic rifle team. In 1983 she won the gold medal at her very first international competition, the Pan American Games, which she competed in when she was just 16 years old. Wigger has also won medals at the rifle shooting world championships.
Born in Montana in 1967, Deena Wigger grew up at Fort Benning, Georgia. It was no accident that she became a world-class sharpshooter. Her father is Lones Wigger, an Olympic gold medal-winning marksman. He won his medals at the 1964 and the 1972 Olympics, and he taught his daughter to shoot before she was a teenager.
Wigger seemed born to the sport of shooting. The first time her father handed her a rifle and pointed out the target for her to shoot, she very carefully set up her shot before pulling the trigger. She fired the rifle five times, and "When we got the target back," her father later told Vicki Michaelis in the Denver Post, "the five-shot group looked like one hole. That was a pretty good indication that she was going to do well."
Since it doesn't require extraordinary physical strength or endurance like other sports, the sport of rifle shooting presents an even playing field for all participants. Men and women of all ages compete against each other. What is required is a sharp focus and a steady hand—attributes of a prepared mind more than a fit body.
Wigger decided early on to shoot competitively, just as her father had before her. At first the elder Wigger acted as her coach, but as she got older, her father turned her training over to others. As he explained later it, teaching one's daughter to shoot was similar to teaching one's wife to drive a car. "I stay away from that," he revealed to Vicki Michaelis in the Denver Post.
In 1983, when she was 16 years old, Wigger competed in her first international competition as a member of the U.S. national shooting team. The event was the Pan American Games, and she took home the gold medal in prone shooting. Wigger went on to college at Murray State University in Kentucky, where she played on the school's rifle team. The highlight of her time at Murray State came when she helped her team to win the NCAA shooting championship. Wigger competed in the World Championships for shooting in 1986, and took home a bronze medal.
In 1988, when Wigger was 21 years old, she competed at the Olympic Games on the U.S. rifle team. Her father acted as the team's manager. Wigger's 9th place performance disappointed her, and she considered giving up the sport. It didn't help that she had big shoes to fill—she questioned whether she would ever be as good as her father.
Olympic rifle competition involves three phases of competition—air rifle, three-position rifle, and free rifle prone. Each phase presents its own challenges. Air rifle involves shooting a .177 caliber gun at a target that is 10 meters away. The bull's eye in this phase of the competition measures just half a millimeter. Three-position rifle has competitors shooting .22 smallbore rifles from their stomachs, from kneeling positions, and while standing at targets 50 meters away. Free rifle prone also involves shooting at targets that are 50 meters away, with rifles that can be specially modified for individual shooters. In both of these last phases of competition, the bull's eyes on the targets are less than the size of a dime.
Because Olympic rifle competition involves shooting small caliber rifles at extremely small targets, the slightest movement on the part of a shooter can spoil the shooters aim. In fact, the competition requires such accuracy that even the shooter's heartbeat can cause a missed shot, and so competitors wear insulated clothing to dampen the vibrations caused by their heartbeats.
Wigger overcame her disappointment over not medaling at the Olympics. She got back on her feet, again shooting in competitions. Wigger's persistence paid off, and in 1989, she broke the women's world air rifle record, with 389 points out of a possible 400 (another shooter broke her record within a year). Wigger went on to won a silver medal at the World Championships in 1990.
Although she was one of the best female shooters in the world, Wigger put enormous pressure on herself to perform better. "The better you get," she explained to Karen Rosen in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution in 1994, "the more pressure you feel." That pressure led her to relocate to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1991. In retrospect Wigger considered this move a mistake. In Colorado Springs, she practiced shooting seven hours a day, often firing 400 rounds in a single session. The intense training schedule pushed her toward burnout, and worse yet, she did not qualify for the 1992 Olympic U.S. shooting team.
After reconsidering her priorities, Wigger joined the Wyoming Air National Guard and also took a job as an administrative assistant with the U.S. shooting team. Working and earning money proved to be just what she needed to take some of the pressure off to make shooting her life, and she took home the gold medal for the three-position at the 1994 Olympic Festival.
In 1995, Wigger joined the U.S. Air Force, where she became a medical technician. She also became the assistant rifle coach at the Air Force Academy, and continued to shoot competitively, notably for the U.S. Air Force International Rifle Team. Wigger tried out for the 1996 Olympic Games, but again failed to qualify. Undaunted, she stayed in the Air Force. Wigger continued to train for shooting with the United States Army Marksmanship Unit (USAMU), and to shoot in competitions such as the World Military Shooting Championships.
Sketch by Michael Belfiore
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