Extraordinary people do more than wish to help people. They channel their compassion into something tangible—an event, a program—that actually does something to help. In their finest transcendent moments, extraordinary people inspire joy and beauty. By these measures, Erin Callahan is an extraordinary person.
I participated in the Fourth Annual Merry Miracles Fun Shoot and Toy Drive sporting clays fundraising event Erin created and orchestrated. Funds raised and toys collected were donated to the Colorado Children’s Hospital. Erin’s inspirations for the events were her cousin’s illness from birth and the diagnosis of thyroid cancer in her best friend. Both have been treated successfully. Erin explained her motivation. “I wanted to find a way to help them and others like them as much as I could.”
This year’s event was held at Great Guns Sporting in Nunn, Colorado. Frigid temperatures and icy winds greeted 182 undaunted bundled and layered registered shooters and twenty-five selfless volunteers. My suggestion that next year’s event be held in the Bahamas, is, Erin told me, being taken under advisement. In addition to the mountain of toys donated, this year’s event raised more than $18,000.00 from entry fees and twenty-four station sponsors, surpassing last year’s amount by forty percent. Lillian, a ten-year-old boasting the smile of a Renoir angel and afflicted with a life-threatening illness since age four, was the Children’s Hospital Ambassador. Her disease now in remission, Lillian is the actualization of a Merry Miracle.
The profound meaning of these events is best expressed in Erin’s own words. “Despite all the time and effort required throughout the year, the event is a constant reminder that there are so many amazing hearts in the world. I have been involved with the shooting community my whole life,” Erin added, “and the people are among the best you will ever meet. This event opened my eyes to that.” I have often written that clay target shooters are among the most supportive and generous folks. Participating in charitable shooting events, they raise tens of thousands of dollars for wonderful causes, such as Wounded Warriors, paralyzed veterans, 4-H clubs and accident victims. Identify a noble cause and clay target shooters will spend time and money supporting it.
Erin remarked that this event has grown into something she couldn’t have ever imagined four years ago. “Its success, she said, “motivates me to make each year bigger and better.”
It’s In The Blood
Erin has been a member of the Rocky Mountain Clay Busters, a Colorado shooting team under the auspices of the Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP). The SCTP was implemented by the Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation, the largest youth shooting program in the world. When a high school senior, Erin was awarded a $1,000.00 SCTP scholarship. She is the 2017 Colorado State Overall Ladies Sporting Clays Champion and shot the top score in the 2018 Colorado State Championship, Main Event, Ladies. Dan Callahan, her father, a big man with an easy jovial smile, has won the Colorado and Kansas Sporting Clays State Championships and seems to have as many competition top finishes as hamburgers sold by McDonald’s. Of course, Erin’s excellence is the consequence of more than her lineage. Erin works tirelessly to improve. “The key to success,” she says, “is to train with focus.” That maxim has served her well, on and off the clay target courses.
The motto of the Scholastic Clay Target Program is “Preparing today’s youth to become the leaders of tomorrow.” The motto perplexed me initially because a program that sought to create leaders by smashing clay discs with shotgun blasts impressed me as illogical. However, I pondered if a relationship existed between Erin’s charitable project and leadership. I concluded that Erin’s hard work and tenacious commitment to helping others, children, particularly, was the quintessential manifestation of virtuous leadership: the personal effort to do good for others.
Many of us, perhaps most, have seen people suffering and in need of medical treatment and, sometimes, simply needing a reason to smile. Most of us have empathy for those who are suffering. Far fewer are those that act to reduce suffering. Erin is one of the few inhabiting that rarified atmosphere where empathy is transformed into action.
Erin organized the first Merry Miracles Shoot at the age of fifteen! In addition to grit and dedication, Erin manifested maturity and grace. “I saw how putting a smile on a child’s face can make a positive impact.” I asked Dan how proud was he of his daughter. “Words can’t describe it. She’s a special girl,” he replied with a grin as wide as the sky.
I’d been shooting at Great Guns for fifteen years and I’ve never seen the parking lot as packed as it was on that chilly day. One veteran of Colorado competitive shooting told me, “This event was the most successful fundraiser in Colorado, and it was started by a teenager! There were more registered shooters than at the state championship.”
Shooting carts darted about like water bugs on a pond. Volunteers handed out water and Fiocchi ammunition. Hot chocolate, coffee and donuts were available at several stations. The frigid air seemed to energize the participants, who were without exception upbeat and effervescent, reveling in the joy of helping others. Throughout the shoot, Erin scurried from shooting station to station monitoring the event and studiously typing something cryptic on her laptop with the focus of a concert pianist.
Each station hosted three squads of shooters, one shooter in each squad shooting in sequence. The arrangement was conducive to moving along the shooters at a maximum pace. Some of the target presentations, particularly the true pairs, proved maddening as the wind threw the clay discs around like kites dancing in a hurricane. I was not at Olympic pitch, but I hit most targets. I confess that at my skill level, it’s tough to miss them all! All too often I succumbed to bad technique, spot shooting on the second target of some true pair presentations rather than having the discipline to follow the line through the second target. Dan Callahan offered some world-class advice: “Travel through the second target. The easy shots become the toughest targets on the course. That’s were championships are lost.” Well, if you say so, but, lest we forget, Dan is the state champion!
Great leaders do more than lead. They inspire and give back to those he or she leads and to others that can benefit from that leadership. By deed and spirit, Erin Callahan is a great leader. She created a structure that accomplishes something extraordinary: enabling shooters to help little children become healthier and happier. The mission of the SCTP is “to help young athletes reach their potential of becoming the best athletes and young adults that they can be.” Erin Callahan is nowhere near reaching her potential. She’s just beginning. But as of this moment, certainly, we can say, with admiration “Mission accomplished!”
It is fitting the event was held at a venue named Great Guns, for these participants were among Colorado’s greatest guns. Sponsors including Mossberg, CZ-USA and Great Guns, among others, opened their hearts and wallets. This year Fiocchi USA will join Merry Miracles as a sponsor. Belt buckles were custom made for the event and given to the Junior Champion, Aden Wyckoff, HOA, Dalton Kirchhoefer, and Ladies Champion, Makayla Dame. All three winners are SCTP athletes!
The springing teal targets on station 9 were high, but for Erin and her Merry Miracles, whose vision, tenacity and love have raised nearly fifty thousand dollars, Erin’s soul reached the heavens, if not even higher. In the words of Ira Gershwin in I’ve Got Rhythm, “Who could ask for anything more?”
for more information:
Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation
Erin Callahan: 303-921-9697
Facebook: Merry Miracles https://www.facebook.com/merrymiracles/
Michael Sabbeth is a lawyer and writer in Denver, Colorado. See his book The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values. Available at Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/c5flmmuavailable as a Kindle EBook.