News Column

Sharpshooter Silva takes aim at nationals

June 23, 2014

By Cindy Luis, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

June 23--Toni Silva is approaching this week's Junior Olympic 3-Position Air Rifle Championships at Camp Perry, Ohio, the same way she's poised to take on Cedar Point, the self-proclaimed Roller Coaster Capital and Best Amusement Park in the World, some 25 miles away across Sandusky Bay.

With no fear.

Why would there be? The incoming senior at St. Francis School already has performed in front of the Pope with classmates as part of World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid. The troupe also sang and danced its way across Europe, with stops in Fatima, Portugal; Assisi, Italy; and, of course, Rome.

Staring up at the Magnum XL-200 -- Cedar Point's 200-foot high 'coaster with a speed of 72 mph -- is nothing compared to staring up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Silva, the thrill-seeker, was more impressed by Michelangelo's masterpiece.

"Oh, my gosh, the detail," said Silva, an aspiring mangaka (anime illustrator) and comic book artist. "How realistic it looks. Backgrounds are my weak point. How'd he get that perspective?"

While Silva is in awe of Michelangelo's gift, others are in awe of her rapid-fire success in air riflery. In her second year, she finished second at October's high school state championships, five points behind individual champion Nadia Hata of Maryknoll. In April, Silva qualified for the national competition by winning the Hawaii state championship, the only shooter to attain the qualifying score; she finished with 537 points, 12 more than needed in the three-discipline sport (prone, standing, kneeling).

Silva can thank her friends at St. Francis for getting her into the sport.

"I wouldn't say they dragged me into it, but they kept saying, 'Toni, come join us,' " Silva said. "So it was, 'Why not?' My friends are going to be there and the coach seemed awesome. He made it look like fun."

Saints coach Delwin Dang is as unorthodox in his methods as Silva is in her shooting style. He also has had to be creative.

"We shoot in the (school) parking lot, we shoot in Manoa, where it rains," Dang said. "We're scheduled to practice five days a week, but we'll lose one or two days a week because of the rain.

"So when we shoot, we have to make it as efficient as possible. If the kids complain about the wind, I tell them to deal with it and be ready to shoot when it dies down. We shoot quicker than most teams. It doesn't bother me, but it bothers a lot of other coaches because it's not the traditional way."

Which is fine for Silva, who enjoys the way Dang has avoided the monotony of practices with games that enhance accuracy. Among those are using small candies such as Smarties as targets, or playing cards, where the goal is to shoot out the various suits on the corners.

AS FOR SILVA, "She listens, she thinks, she processes it and then applies what's been said," said Dang, who is traveling with Silva's family as her coach. "The kids who do well are the most coachable.

"I find that the kids that do well are usually the better students (Silva has a 3.6 GPA). They are disciplined, used to concentrating and problem-solving. And a lot of it is muscle memory. You build that so that you're not overthinking. You can focus on the process and not the results. Your routine becomes automatic."

Silva's background in arts -- both martial and fine -- has helped her with discipline and focus. Her family's background in music (Silva plays piano by ear) helps give an inner rhythm to her shooting routine.

Still, at 4-foot-11 on tiptoe and 80-pounds-ish, Silva might be literally overlooked on the range this week. She likes it that way, very much like her character in the comic book she and her friends are creating.

They all have super powers derived from the elements.

"I never expected to be this good," Silva said. "I wasn't expecting the awards. Basically, I'm in it to be with my friends and we're here for the fun."

There are benefits, however. There are 15 roller coasters at Cedar Point and the prospect of getting her license to be able to hunt with her father and family members on trips to Molokai.

"The family shoots, I think even my grandmother knows how," Silva said. "I haven't gone hunting yet because my dad (Sam) didn't want me to mess up my shooting style.

"It's going to be interesting when there's a moving target. But I'm not skinning that deer."


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Source: Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI)

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