Women of Calibre: Cherie Blake

This week I had the pleasure of chatting with Action shooter Cherie Blake about the Bianchi Cup, her military training and her family of ace shooters.

You’ve been target shooting since you were 12 years old. What are some of your most memorable experiences in the shooting community?

Back in the mid 1980s, Victoria started running Junior Camps for a week in the Christmas school holidays.  There would be up to 50 juniors at these camps and it was so good to be around other kids with the same interests. There’s been some great quality shooters that attended these camps as juniors, including Olympians Linda Ryan and David Chapman.

But the most significant experience from my shooting life will always be shooting in the Defence / Army team where I met my husband – he was in the rifle team and I was in the pistol team. I think it was my slick mag changes that drew his attention!

Shooting the mover at the Bianchi Cup

Shooting the mover at the Bianchi Cup

What do you like most about competing in Action match?

What I like about action match is also what is the most demanding part; it forces you to bring your A game to every stage of every event because you can’t make up points later in the match. You really have to strive for perfection for all 192 shots, so it is as much a mental challenge as a shooting challenge.

The other great thing about Action Match is the quality of the people you shoot with. There are so many characters and I often find myself laughing so hard with them, making every shoot an enjoyable experience. Having said that, every one also respects that when you’re on the line you are there to shoot the best you can.

Are there many other women who shoot Action match?

Unfortunately there aren’t too many women in Australia that shoot Action, but as I always say we are quality not quantity.  Aussie women have won the Bianchi Cup more times (5) than our male countrymen (2). In the 2014 Australian Nationals we had 15 female competitors but amongst them was a past World Champion and two past Bianchi Cup champions (one went on to win the 2015 Bianchi Cup).

The biggest deterrent for people starting action match, regardless of gender, is the price of an ‘open’ pistol to allow you to be competitive in this category.  A decent ‘open’ pistol will start at $5000, however Metallic category is competed at state and national titles.

Just showing you how the mover at Bianchi is with the media - I’m shooting but you can hardly see me!

Just showing you how the mover at Bianchi is with the media – I’m shooting but you can hardly see me!

Last year you did extremely well in the Bianchi Cup, placing fifth overall in the women’s division – congratulations! What’s it like competing at the event?

Thanks! Although it was bitter sweet as I missed a plate (worth 10 points) and ended up only 7 points behind the second place lady – but as I said it’s an unforgiving match! Bianchi is a bit of an addictive event – once you go there you just want to do it again and again – with a better- the -next- time attitude. I once heard 4 time Bianchi Champion Jessie Duff say that shooting the mover at Bianchi is a more nerve wracking experience than being interviewed on national (USA) live TV! There really is nothing like it. I’ve been fortunate to shoot in the Colt Speed event twice, where you are shooting in front of 100s of spectators – the bleachers are full! And then there’s the media, when you are shooting the mover, you are the only competitor on the line, there is a range officer standing behind you and there can be up to 10 media and press people standing around you! We were in the US on a family holiday last year and we turned on the TV to see a re-run of the Shooting USA Bianchi Cup coverage – amazing to see yourself on TV in another country! The other thing to mention is that the prize money is not bad either – the first year I went I won the First Time Lady and a few other places which saw me take home a cheque for over US$3,000!

What are the essential items in your range bag when you attend a big international match?

It really doesn’t matter to me if it’s a local competition, the Nationals or the World Championships – my range bag stays the same and that’s important, train how you are going to compete.  I may add a water bottle to be able to have a drink while targets are changed because your mouth can get dry in those big events! I always carry wet ones in my range bag – it’s really important to be lead safe, I always wipe my hands after I shoot just to help reduce that possible lead contamination. For those who think this isn’t necessary I actually tested my hands after firing only 50 rounds at the range to find that they were covered with lead to the highest level, so I take that seriously for me and my family.

Shooting Plates at Bianchi, Jessie Duff USA in position 1 and Tiffany Piper NZ in Position 2

Shooting Plates at Bianchi, Jessie Duff USA in position 1 and Tiffany Piper NZ in Position 2

There are a lot of well-known competitors who are shooting “celebrities” in their own right competing at that event, and it’s very well publicised. Do you find that affects your mental game when you’re competing, and how do you prepare yourself psychologically?

I actually find it an absolute privilege to shoot with these people and socialise with them. You’re right, it’s shooting royalty but they are great people, welcoming with their time.  I love that I have been able to strike up friendships with these shooters, I’m in awe of them and have realised that although it would be a dream come true to be a fully professional shooter they work so hard and it’s not as easy as it looks for them. Especially in the US with the huge number of shooters and the amazing growth in women taking up shooting as a sport.

Those high profile competitors are just one of the things that makes the Bianchi Cup what it is – it’s tough to tune out the media, the spectators and the hype.  All you have to do is focus on your own shooting – it’s that easy!!!

Shooting the plates at Bianchi

Shooting the plates at Bianchi

You’ve had military training as well. Did that experience help you to prepare for the rigours of elite competition, or is a very different mindset?

Actually I think it was the other way around.  My experiences in shooting before I joined the Army meant that I wasn’t intimidated by being in such a male dominated environment.  I’d been shooting since I was 12, I could hold my own in any match I shot and a lot of the time would be the only girl on the range. So when I was in the Army in the 1990s, in which there was only about 10% women, it didn’t effect me, but I think that was challenging for some of my female peers.  I wasn’t intimidated by weapons and therefore I got to do some cool things like shoot a Carl Gustav 84mm Anti Tank weapon. I also had some fun moments where people had made preconceived ideas based on my gender and stature and then I out shot them – and by a lot.

I believe your hubby Mark has also taken up Action shooting in recent years. How do find shooting as a couple?

I LOVE it! As I mentioned we met in the Defence Force shooting team so we’ve always had that shared interest. About 5 years ago Mark got bored of watching me shoot my ISSF matches and started shooting with me but ISSF was too slow for him so we started Action. We are both very competitive, so it’s great to train with each other and then there’s travelling together in Australia and the US which is awesome!
Mark and I at the Bianchi Presentation dinner last year

Mark and I at the Bianchi Presentation dinner last year

What does your daughter think about her mum being a champion target shooter?

Our daughter is actually a National Champion in her own right – she won the U/14 Steel Challenge Nationals when she was 12 and backed up the following year to win the U/16 at 13yo – I’m such a proud mum! Shooting is just part of our every day life in our family and she’s a great little shooter, with a rifle and a pistol, but is more focused on netball at the moment – which is great; I love team sports and I’m glad she’s involved in that now.  That’s one of the benefits of pistol shooting; your age isn’t that big of a factor, you can still be competitive in many of the disciples even in your senior years.  I found that my level of participation waxed and waned over the years – when the time is right and the balance is right you can commit to those big goals, lots of training and competition, or just shoot socially at your range and enjoy being around like minded people.

Cherie is heading off her fourth Bianchi Cup on 24th May 2016. We wish her all the best!

Cherie is proudly supported by the following sponsors:

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