WASHINGTON COUNTY — Jalise and Justine Williams started shooting guns when they were they were 4 and 3 years old. Now, just over a decade later, they’re professional athletes competing at the national level for shooting.
Jalise, 15, and Justine, 14, compete in practical shooting, which tests a shooter’s speed and accuracy at the same time. They usually use handguns to shoot different targets quickly while moving. They train nearly every day at the Southern Utah Practical Shooting Range in the Purgatory Flat area of Washington County and have even started teaching adults during classes at the shooting range.
“We’re thrill seekers,” Jalise said. “Shooting just came naturally to us.”
Both of the sister shooters are top athletes in their sport. Justine is the youngest grand master in the nation, which means she’s ranked among the top 5 percent of shooters in the U.S. Practical Shooting Association. And at the USPSA national championships in Florida in October, Jalise won first lady national champion in her category for the second year in a row.
From first trigger to top athlete
The sisters were first introduced to shooting when they were babies, said the girls’ mother Jaime Williams.
“(Their father Jason Williams) said he wanted to go hunting, and I’m like ‘Here’s the diaper bags and here’s the babies,'” Jaime Williams said. “And he put them on his back and took them hunting.”
A few years later, Jalise and Justine started shooting milk jugs with their first rifles when they were 3 and 4. Jason Williams said he cut the stock off a .357 lever-action rifle so the sisters could handle the gun when they were small.
The girls started their professional shooting career after their mother took them to a “Ladies’ Night” clinic at the Southern Utah Practical Shooting Range when they were 9 and 10. After that, Jalise and Justine started getting more interested in the sport of practical shooting and soon started training often to improve.
“They’ve really been training hard for the past four years,” Jaime Williams said. “It’s all finally starting to come together this year.”
Just this year, Jalise and Justine have competed around the country and even in Jamaica for the 2018 Pan American Handgun Championship. It’s starting to consume most of their time, Jaime Williams said.
“It’s been an awesome year,” Jalise said. “It’s hard because we have to balance schoolwork and then traveling. Oftentimes, we’d get home (from a competition), throw our clothes in the washer and then repack them right away for another competition.”
Jalise and Justine’s parents had to take the girls out of the public school system at the end of 2017 because they required so much time away for competitions and training. They are now enrolled in online school “because we thought it’d be the best thing for our careers,” Justine said.
“Our classmates at the range are great,” Jalise said with a laugh.
Perfecting their aim
Today, the girls practice their shooting for two to four hours almost every day. Their only day off during the week is Friday, Justine said. They’ve also started teaching classes for handguns at the Southern Utah Practical Shooting Range with a few other instructors.
Like any athlete at the top of their game, the hardest part about shooting for Jalise and Justine is the mental game they play when they step up to the line, Justine said.
“This sport is 95 percent keeping your mind straight and 5 percent working hard, talent and dedication,” Jalise said.
The key parts of practical shooting is accuracy and speed, but the most fun part about shooting is pulling the trigger as fast as possible, Justine said.
“I like hosing the targets down as fast as I can,” she said. “I just like to pull the trigger fast. That’s my thing.”
As the girls practiced their practical shooting skills Thursday, they ran between several brief stops where they took aim and fired on a variety of different types of targets. Most of the time, their bullets struck each target on their first try.
Setting sights on world championships
One of Jalise’s immediate goals is to become a grand master like her younger sister. But both hope to one day represent America at the Handgun World Shoot and win a gold medal. The World Shoot is the highest-level handgun championship in the world, which makes it similar to the Olympic Games, Jason Williams said.
Like the Olympics, athletes represent their countries to compete in the Handgun World Shoot. It’s held every three years, with the next one taking place in Thailand in 2020.
Practical shooting at the Handgun World Shoot is measured by how many targets are hit and how fast the shooter can complete the course, Jaime Williams said.
“Each stage is dependent on speed and accuracy, so you’ll see a lot of competitors calculating points divided by time so they know if they need to go fast on a certain stage or if they need to be a little more accurate,” Justine said. “It’s a lot of math.”
Justine has another ultimate goal to break through the glass ceiling of top shooting champions in the nation.
“No woman has ever won overall and beat all the men,” Justine said. “That’s definitely going to be a goal for me.”
Jalise and Justine’s next competition and last one for 2018 will be a multi-gun tournament at the Southern Utah Practical Shooting Range called “Hard as Hell,” which takes place in December. They hope to continue improving and winning championships around the world in 2019 as they prepare to hopefully attend the Handgun World Shoot someday.
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