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A Pittsburgh rifle shoot has propelled a Pennsylvania man to Olympic competition. Chris Fidler, 49, of Jonestown, Pa., will journey to the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., to train for the next Paralympic Games.

A former Army paratrooper from Lebanon County, Fidler has used a wheelchair since suffering a back injury in 1981. He won the right to compete in the Paralympics, which are held in conjunction with the Olympic Games, by winning the National Disabled Sectional 3-P air rifle competition held March 27 at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Highland Park. He shot a 532 out of a possible 600 in a field of 19 competitors. The sectional competitions were conducted by the National Rifle Association.

The competitors shot at targets over a 10-meter distance. Though all shot from their wheelchairs, their shooting position was modified to mimic the shooting positions in other competitions. For the offhand (standing) competition, competitors shot without support. To mimic the prone (lying) position, competitors braced their elbows on a table placed in front of them.

"It was a blast. I didn't do too bad," said Ed Leeper, 63, of Washington, Pa. "I got to talk to some of the other guys who are in the same position I am. That's nice, too."

A veteran who served in the Air Force from 1964 to 1968, Leeper has used a wheelchair since falling in a work accident five years ago. "I didn't think retirement was going to be exactly like this," he said.

"You've got to have a good attitude about it," said Joe Jenkins, 42, an avid hunter from Lower Burrell. An Army vet, he was shot in the neck in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. "You can't let it get you down."

"It's me and the target," said John Blozik, 63, of Verona, a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War who has used a wheelchair for two years. "Before I got sick, I used to shoot all the time."

"I'm pleased with the turnout," said Tom Strang, 68, of Cecil, the assistant sports director for the Keystone Paralyzed Veterans of America. "We sponsor events like this to get people out of the house. This is all about health. It's tough to get people with spinal cord injuries to exercise. They just figure their life is over."

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