By Warren Berg
When she was a little girl growing up in Venezuela, Gabriella “Gabby” Franco’s father learned that the range at which he’d been getting concealed carry training had a junior shooting team. He was so enthused by the activity that he signed up Gabby and her two sisters for the team. In doing so, he set in motion a series of events that led to Franco being the first female shooter representing Venezuela in the Olympics, and later the only woman to progress to the final stage of The History Channel’s “Top Shot” championship. Perhaps more importantly, learning to shoot instilled in Franco a mindset that would eventually help guide her through personal struggles in life.
From Olympic Precision Shooting to … Action Pistol?!
“My first firearm was an air pistol. It was a Feinwerkbau. I think it was a Model 162,” recalls Franco of a gun she tells me was “very old style” and “what her dad could afford.”
Like most kids, Franco tried other sports, but it was the air pistol that captivated her attention.
“With the air pistol, it seemed easy. The target didn’t move, I didn’t move, and yet it was so difficult to hit the bull’s-eye!”
While Franco enjoyed shooting recreationally, becoming a competitor was not something she’d ever thought about doing.
“It just happened,” she says, explaining how the shooting team got a coach who encouraged her to shoot in her first match. “It just happened, and I fell in love with it.”
With that “old style” Feinwerkbau, Franco competed in a national competition, taking third place. She later silver medaled in the Pan-American competition, making her the second-best shooter in the Americas and earning her a slot on the 1999 Olympic air pistol team.
Today, Franco’s favorite shooting disciplines couldn’t be more disparate: Olympic air pistol and USPSA. The former is analogous to meditation, while the latter is more like CrossFit. Both provide different mental challenges for Franco, who points out that to excel in the shooting sports, “You don’t have to be the strongest or the tallest, yet you have to have the strongest and toughest mind to do it effectively.” With air pistol, Franco says the mental game is about being in that exact moment, while with USPSA it’s about strategizing. “You can actually see improvement making little changes [in strategy] and that is just fascinating and it’s fun,” she says.
Tough Times Turned Around
It’s that mindset learned through Olympic shooting that help get Franco through one of those tough patches we all hit in life.
“I lost my job. My ex-husband left me. I was at rock-bottom — dead,” she says. “I remember sitting and crying and not knowing what to do. [But] the mentality of shooting that I learned in Olympic shooting is that you don’t dwell in the past. If you have a bad shot, you don’t worry about the bad shot. You don’t even worry about the future. You don’t worry about what the next shot is going to be, that is not your concern.”
With that lesson learned through shooting, Franco didn’t dwell on the past or anguish over the future. Instead, she focused on the here and now, asked herself what Gabby the shooter would do and made a plan.
“I started thinking,” she says. “I was like, ‘Okay, I can cry all I want over what’s happening to me, but what can I do right now to get out of this situation?’”
Franco knew she could shoot; she had made it to the Olympics after all. She remembers thinking, “I think I can teach one or two things to people about how to shoot well, and that is when I decided I was going to be an instructor.”
Since then, Franco has served as a coach for disabled veterans at Top Shot Hero competitions and trained several wounded veterans with the Epic Warriors Organization. At the MCAS Yuma Range, she taught Marines about precision shooting and has participated as an instructor at multiple A Girl & A Gun and The Well Armed Woman events.
Favorite Firearms, And a Wish to Go Long and a Little Color
Her favorite handguns are 2011 and 1911 platforms, calling them “very versatile” and “easy to customize” for whatever she wants. “I have small hands, and yet it’s easy for me to change triggers, make [these handguns] smaller for my hand size or put on different grips,” she says of the modularity of modern handguns.
A Barrett .50-caliber rifle is on her bucket list, as is competing in Precision Rifle Series long-range shooting one day. “I think PRS is a very interesting challenge, and that is what makes it something I would like to do in the future,” says Franco.
Until then, Franco fills her time when she’s not shooting by enjoying motherhood and using her artistic talent. “I love to paint. I made one attempt at painting a canvas for my son, and it turned out pretty good. I do murals. I did a mural for his bedroom,” she says, laughing and adding that she is also very good with a sewing machine.
Seven Things You Probably Don’t Know About Gabby Franco
- Her coach used to make her run 45 minutes a day to lower her heart rate so she would shoot more accurately.
- She loves being a mom.
- Her father used to hunt when they lived in Venezuela.
- She used to take flamenco dance classes.
- Her younger brother used to call her “Aba.”
- People tell Franco that she looks taller on TV.
- One of Franco’s favorite pastimes is to just sit and think.