Sylvan Lake resident Arno Baron knows plenty about the intense focus needed to be a spot-on sharpshooter.
He’s had years of experience and these days enjoys sharing his extensive knowledge with young folks eager to master the skill.
He coaches the Red Deer Fish and Game Association Junior Air Pistol Club.
The group meets Tuesday afternoons in the back of the Red Deer Public School District maintenance building located beside the Memorial Centre.
Originally from Germany, Baron and his family first settled in northern B.C.
“After high school I joined the air force, and that’s when I actually started shooting competitively,” he said.
He was later part of the National Air Force Team, in 1961.
He spent five years in the air force, but kept up with shooting in civilian life. Baron had his own automotive shop on the west coast for 30 years.
In 1979, he got himself a coach. In 1982, he qualified for the national team which he was part of, off and on, through to 2002.
He also participated in World Cup events representing Canada in 1985, 1987 and 1990.
“In 1994, I was approached, in the Fraser Valley, to start coaching the shooting part of the pentathlon where they do five sports.”
Five years later, he trained half of the Canada Winter Games team to a gold medal.
In the spring of 2006, he started coaching locally after he and his wife settled in Sylvan Lake the year prior.
They had been motorcycling through the area while on holidays and were struck by the charms of the town.
“We thought this is a beautiful little town, and that we wouldn’t mind living here,” he recalled. “We walked into the real estate office, we found a house we liked and we bought it.”
Today, he’s having loads of fun coaching in Red Deer. The accessibility of the sport is something that really stands out, he said.
“It’s a lifelong sport that anyone can start.”
Usually, Baron starts coaching participants who are at least 12 years of age.
After that, virtually anyone can learn the ropes. “There is no age limit — we have a lot of seniors. There are also lots of professional people in the sport because it’s physically and mentally demanding.
“You need to be focused and in good overall physical condition. As easy as the sport looks, it’s very demanding.
“We also find that the kids that are in the sport, because of the training, they have the propensity to excel. Invariably, they are good students.”
Baron has a natural, relaxed rapport with his students. These days, about eight drop by for the Tuesday sessions which include theory, instruction and practice.
“I enjoy these guys — they give me a bad time and I give them a bad time,” he said with a laugh. “I think I always wanted to be a teacher and just didn’t know it. I’ve always had this thing about teaching and passing on this experience I have gained over the years.”
Emily Caine, 19, certainly enjoys spending time at the club and learning as much as she can from Baron. And although she does very well in the sport these days, it wasn’t something that came naturally right off the bat. She started when she was about 13 and lots of practice was the order of the day.
“When I first started, it was amazing if I hit the target.”
She’s come a long way, having taken part in the Universiade 2011 Games in Shenzhen, China last August. Caine said she shot almost a personal best in air pistol at the event.
The experience of attending the event was a joy in and of itself.
“I can’t even describe it. It was amazing,” she said. “It was one of those experiences you tell others that if they have the chance, they have got to go.”
Caine, who is studying at Red Deer College, has been under Baron’s guidance for the last five years or so.
“He knows what he’s about and gets the job done, but at the same time he’s very easy to talk to.”
For Caine, much of the appeal of the sport comes from the opportunities to meet a wide array of like-minded people.
“It’s a small community, so everyone is part of the group. It doesn’t matter if you are world-class or if you are a provincial team member. The people are awesome — I don’t think I’ve met a better group.”
For more information about the Red Deer Fish and Game Association Junior Air Pistol Club, call Arno Baron at 403-887-6575.