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This Miss Can’t Miss : Kimberly Rhode, at 12 a Wizard in World of Skeet, Is Shooting for a Berth on the 1996 Olympic Team

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kimberly Rhode has hobbies typical of a 12-year-old girl. She likes to collect stamps, seashells, money. . . .

But there’s one thing that sets her apart from other girls her age: She likes to tote a shotgun.

And if the sight of a young girl lugging around a weapon nearly as big as she is doesn’t capture your attention, watching one shoot as well as Kimberly Rhode does will.

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Rhode’s specialty is skeet. When she raises the gun slowly to her cheek, softly says “Pull,” and hits the flying clay bird with apparent ease, you can’t help but shake your head in disbelief.

And if you are an experienced adult competing against her, you can’t help but end up sighing. “It’s a no-win situation for the poor guy because the crowd just totally tears him up,” said Richard Rhode, Kimberly’s father. “She humiliates a lot of guys.”

Surprise is more the response Kimberly gets when she tells her seventh-grade classmates at Durfee Middle School in El Monte of her accomplishments.

“They don’t think . . . they say they can’t imagine me shooting,” Kimberly said. “They say they think I fall right on my butt.”

On the contrary. Despite her size, 4 feet 10 1/2, Kimberly Rhode is a hardened competitor, fast climbing the ranks of a sport long dominated by grown men.

“She runs unbelievable numbers,” said John Cloherty, a Southland sporting clays instructor and trick shooter. “Most (adult) skeet shooters can’t beat her.”

At a recent practice session at Pachmayr Shooting Sports Park in Whittier, Rhode charmed her father out of a couple of dollars, bought a bag of chips and a soda and waited her turn.

Men in their 40s and 50s were shooting, some scoring well, others not so well. Only one other female could be seen at the park, and that was Kimberly’s mother, Sharon.

Kimberly got the call and proceeded to shatter 24 of 25 clay pigeons, winning a piece of pie from her father, a former competitor, who hit 23.

Kimberly smiled and went back to her chips, charming those who had gathered to watch.

“What I like about Kimberly is that she’s a good kid,” said Arthur Bright, owner of Collectible Arms in Santa Monica, and a partial sponsor of Rhode’s. “She has a good head on her shoulders, she’s bright and she’s a good student.”

And an excellent shot.

In her last skeet tournament last month, Kimberly hit 97 of 100 clay birds with a 12-gauge shotgun, 98 with a 20-gauge, 94 with a 28-gauge and a 96 with a 410. She was men’s Class C champion in three of the events and ladies’ champion in all four.

This from a girl smaller than most her age, who first tried skeet shooting only a year ago, when she hit eight of 25 birds.

In her first six tournaments, she won five second-place medals and took third place in the state championships, where among 245 shooters--most of them men--she was the youngest by at least two years.

Since then she has risen to men’s Class C, and her numbers this season should earn her an A or AA rating after she concludes her mandatory third tournament later this month. Anyone who has seen her shoot knows she’s a cinch to join the ranks of the elite AAA.

But Kimberly has higher aspirations. She is shooting for the 1996 Olympics.

“She’s definitely an Olympic hopeful,” said Bright, who contributed a shotgun worth $7,500 to her training.

“I have no doubt she will become the national women’s champion by the time she’s 16,” Bright added. “I’ve never seen someone with so much natural ability.”

Richard Rhode says Kimberly had a way with a gun at a very early age.

Kimberly, when asked about her first experience with a gun, smiled and gave her father a sort of sneer and answered briskly: “A week after I was born, I was taken on a deer-hunting trip. My mom and dad told me they stuck me in a toilet-paper box and stuck me on the stove while they hunted.”

Not long afterward, Kimberly was accompanying her father on most of his hunting trips.

Her first was in Yuma, Ariz., during dove-hunting season. She remembers being too small to hold the gun, so she sat on her father’s lap, aimed and pulled the trigger. “I used to limit out that way,” she recalled. “I used to stick the (gun) stock underneath my arm so the recoil would hit my dad.”

Years later, Kimberly, nearing her teens, took down a four-point mule deer in full flight--from 200 yards.

When Kimberly was 11, she was taken on a safari. Her father wanted her to hunt, but the African guides wouldn’t hear of it. The fact that she was a girl was bad enough, but that she was so young and so small made their decision seem final.

But Richard Rhode persisted and the guides eventually gave in, providing that Kimberly Rhode pass a test they felt sure she would fail.

They ran a paper plate out 100 yards and said she could participate if she could hit the plate. Richard Rhode obviously had a great deal of confidence in his daughter.

He had the guides bring the plate back and drew a circle the size of a quarter.

Kimberly put the first bullet a little high of the circle but well into the middle of the plate.

She loaded again and shot five times in semi-rapid fire, and put all five bullets into the circle, with room to spare.

“The (guides) all started laughing,” Kimberly recalled, adding that they told her she was a better shot than all of them and better than any of the clients they had accompanied.

The hunt was on and Kimberly Rhode managed to shoot four record-book animals, all from about 100 yards: a kudu, blesbok, fallow deer and steembok. “I took them all down with one shot,” she said.

Her progression through the classifications of pro-marksman, marksman and sharpshooter, and the tight rifle groupings she has plastered in her scrapbook make her story all the more believable.

But with her sights set on the 1996 Olympics, most of her time these days figures to be spent not in the field but on the range. She is currently shooting between 600 and 700 rounds a week and is becoming more involved in sporting clays.

“She gets up every morning at 4 a.m. to do her homework,” her mother said, adding that Kimberly is on the honor roll.

Richard, a marine biologist, and Sharon, a quality coordinator with an oil company, have given up competitive shooting so they can afford to put Kimberly through the necessary training. Between shells, range time, entry fees and travel expenses, that comes to about $500 a week.

As for Kimberly, she insists that she isn’t missing out on being a kid, and indeed she seems quite content, both in school, where she looks forward to science class, and on the range, where she says “the birds fly different every day.”

And Kimberly Rhode, aiming ever so high, hits them anyway.


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