Ali Weisz vividly remembers, as a 9-year-old, walking through the halls of Belgrade Intermediate School when a flier caught her eye.

She saw signup information for the Gallatin Valley Sharpshooters, a local 4-H shooting club. One practice later, Weisz was hooked.

Competitions around the world later, the Belgrade native is just one step away from competing in the Olympics.

“It is really incredible to think that all it took was a flier in elementary school at 9 years old that made me kind of interested,” Weisz said. “Walked down there, showed up, and just fell in love with the sport. All it took was one person to say, ‘Hey, you have some natural talent with this and you can go really far with it. You should stick with it.’”

That natural talent was on full display earlier this month as Weisz represented the United States at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

The 24-year-old not only won gold but set a Pan American record with a score of 249.4 while competing in air rifle.

Her performance also secured the final quota spot for the U.S. women’s 10-meter air rifle team for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Weisz was quick to note, however, she has not punched a ticket to Tokyo yet.

“The way the rifle and shooting sports works is we earn these quotas, which are essentially just places for us to send to the Olympics,” Weisz said. “So right now they’re just empty. ... We can for sure send two people in women’s air rifle, two people in women’s small bore rifle, and the same thing for men’s air rifle and men’s small bore rifle, but the people are unknown yet. We still have a two-trial coming up.”

The first part of the qualifying trial will be held in December with the second next spring. Weisz likes her chances of reaching the summer Olympics, which would begin in late July next year.

“I’m definitely more confident in it than I have been previously in the past just because I have a lot more experience with it now,” she said. “Traveling internationally, I do think there is a little bit of merit to learning how to win. I think people can learn how to compete all the time, but they also need to learn how to win and deal with that extra pressure.”

Weisz noted guns were not prominent at home.

“My family is not a big gun hunting family like most Montana families are or even most rifle or all shooting athletes families are,” she said. “We were talking about that just the other day actually waiting on our plane. Somebody had asked us, ‘How many guns do all of you own?’ And they’re listing off all of these big numbers. And I was like, ‘I don’t know if my parents own any.’ So I don’t know how this happened.”

That flier peaked her interest, and then the positive feedback and success that followed sent Weisz on a quest around the planet.

“It really is incredible to think that all it takes is one person,” Weisz said. “I think it’s really inspiring to think about. Everyone every day, you could just say one sentence to someone and it can effect them their entire life, positively or negatively. Thankfully for me, it was quite positive and sent me on this Olympic dream, Olympic path that I’ve been striving for since.”

Weisz played volleyball at Belgrade, but her shooting prowess led to a University of Mississippi scholarship. She collected a slew of honors and set school records for the Ole Miss rifle team, which included qualifying for the NCAA Championships four consecutive years — three in air rifle.

A victory at the USAS National Championship secured a spot on the national team for Weisz, who has spent much of the past year training at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Weisz traveled with teammates to Peru, arriving on July 23, then waited more than a week for her turn to compete. It was an agonizing stretch as the U.S. men and women competed in 15-meter small bore, air rifle, and shotgun and pistol events.

“We were one of the last events. So we had seen a lot of success out of USA shooting for basically 10 days before our competition,” Weisz said. “It was interesting because you were there for one day and one day only, but your teammates are there and for team USA you were there for many days of competition.

“So that was just an interesting perspective as well because you’re there supporting them and watching them shoot every day, and also your nerves and anxiety is building a little bit because you got to follow this up. We have to shoot well too, and we haven’t even shot yet. So it was interesting for sure, but a really awesome experience.”

When Weisz and teammate Mindy Miles finally competed Thursday, it didn’t go well. Weisz had a “poor” qualification match, while Miles set a new Pan American record.

The slate was wiped clean heading into the final, which Weisz managed to sneak into by placing in the top eight. During a 45-minute break, she realized during discussions with coaches the likelihood of her repeating her performance was slim.

Weisz went ahead and broke Miles’ record in the final.

Weisz returned to the U.S. Monday then traveled to Belgrade Tuesday for a family visit. It’s a short respite, however, as she’ll return to competition Aug. 23 at the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.

“So now that we got the quota out of the way, (it’s) win medals and do well,” Weisz said. “At least we don’t have to go down and try to win the quota because if that was the case it would truly be our last opportunity to get a spot to send another person to the Olympics.”

Following the World Cup, Weisz will be taking a graduate assistant coaching position with the University of Memphis rifle team. She plans to return to school and complete a master’s degree within the next two years and continue training.

“‘Am I dreaming still?’” Weisz sometimes wonders to herself. “But it’s cool.”

Colton Pool can be reached at or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.